Peggy and I walked into the Center Camp Café to the sound of applause, which wasn’t surprising since someone is always performing. This time, however, the clapping came from the back of the large tent where people line up to get coffee, tea and lemonade. It’s one of the few places you can buy something at Burning Man. The counter stretches from one wall to the other.
During a busy day, Burners are stacked up at the counter 20 deep in several lines. There is constant banter back and forth between the large staff of volunteers and their customers. Sometimes you have to sing a song or tell a story before you get your drink.
It was night now, however, and most Burners were elsewhere. The staff had decided it was time for an impromptu dance. They had climbed up on the counter and were bouncing, bobbing, weaving, stomping and twirling to the music. It was a typical Center Camp happening.
Like the Man and the Temple, Center Camp Café is a go-to place for most Burners. To begin with, it is stuffed with both art and entertainment, inside and out. A large stage surrounded by comfy couches provides a venue for scheduled entertainers and speakers as well as a place for people who want to sleep. A smaller, less formal stage with wooden benches is open for anybody. Just sign up. Storytellers, poets and magicians are welcome as are people who want to rant and rave. The latter remind me of my days as a student at Berkeley.
Most entertainment is less organized. Parades, for example, are common at Burning Man. Many of them end up marching through the Café. I’ve seen rabbits, and carrots, and belly dancers, and people in little black dresses (both men and women), and kazoo bands, to name a few. The rabbits and carrots, BTW, are at war with each other.
I almost always go on a clock-like walk around the Café to see what else is happening. It’s an easy way to pick up one of BRC’s newspapers or fill out the Burning Man Census at one of the tables provided. Giving things away is big business. You can have your fortune read or receive a massage. Pastie Dan is a regular, providing his usual nipple-cover service for women. It’s impolite to stare but impossible not to notice. I reported last year on the woman who walked around carrying a block of ice. She would hand you the block and then put her freezing hands on your neck. It was instant air conditioning.
The Center Camp Café is also a place to see and be seen. Burners dress in their best get-ups for a stroll around the perimeter. There are angels and demons and preachers and shamans. I sometime think there are more kilts than you will find in Scotland. Native American headdresses seemed “in” for some reason this year and steam punk is becoming more and more popular. A whole story could be devoted to what’s trending at Burning Man.
And finally, there is center stage, which really isn’t a stage but is rather a large, round center space where people do their own thing for an audience that isn’t. The photo at the beginning of this blog shows people practicing partner yoga in the center area. The following video shows a man working with flags. There is also other action such as the guy on the right wearing the pink outfit scratching the head of the woman who swoops in on him.
NEXT BLOG: We journey to the outer edge of Burning Man and discover strange, alien beings, which is hardly a surprise.