WHY WE BURN THE MAN (1997)

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Later that first day out I go to a photo shoot for Breedlove out on the playa. He is like Captain America, Buzz Lightyear and Neil Armstrong. Short, stylish, blow-dried and futuristic. Betacam crews from Speedvision are rolling tape and zooming in and out and around Breedlove in an over, unders, sideways down manner, the desert wind acting as a prop man’s fan, giving Breedlove’s hair the illusion that even when he is standing still things are still in motion… News photographers and motorsport beat writers try to stay clear of the swooping camera crew and its gold reflector boards.

I wonder why the Speedvision crew wasn’t at the Thrust SSC news conference and am informed by some of the press that Speedvision has signed an exclusive deal with Breedlove. I remark that this is kind of like reporting on Pearl Harbor and you can’t mention the Japanese and people laugh. It is hard for me take Speedvision seriously as a news-gathering entity, but this bought-and-paid for journalism is increasingly the way of the world, isn’t it?

The photo shoot wraps, I motor across the dry lake bed and chat up some members of the SSC team. After soaking up the sights and sounds of Gerlach, I spend the night in my car, parked next to the railroad tracks and Breedlove’s media compound, which is Gerlach’s vacant Chamber of Commerce building. As I struggle to sleep, I think about what is transpiring right in front of me and how Noble KNEW it would be more dramatic if he and Breedlove set up a drag race (of sorts). Indeed, this “duel” was supposed to happen LAST year, when Noble ran out of cash and Breedlove ran out of aerodynamic stability.

Ergo, this year both camps are completely winging it on some level and are following a letter-perfect game plan on another; what makes this fascinating is the differences in constructing the dueling massive porta-skunk works installed on this uninhabitable dry lake bed. The Brits are a completely disciplined hive of worker bees, who have summarily fhwwooped together an inflatable quonset hut, parked a coterie of tractor-trailers and space age support vehicles. It is lickety-split and it is focused. Breedlove’s encampment is coming together in a much more lackadaisical manner, as if he falls short of the delegation abilities and the manpower to simultaneously star in a photo shoot and oversee a portable installation.

But “target dates” are really “moving target dates.” There are just too many variables in pulling a run off; Breedlove is supposedly going for the record on Wednesday, but who knows? This may take six weeks to play itself out…

The locals are bemused and rather enthralled by the LSR war that has taken root in their county. It is certainly a kinder and gentler invasion than the Burning Man art festival that has just wrapped there.

This is the conversation over breakfast at Bruno’s, as I am speaking to the Fly Ranch Hot Springs land owners (a scruffy, pot-bellied gent named Vann and his wife, Annie, who looks like Peggy Lipton after the gas has been shut off), who are telling me that before the festival they “had 120 head of cattle; this morning we counted 25.” Vann pulls on his overall straps and reckons the animals were spooked by the festivities, and were not fodder for the festival goers’ bbq’s, as many of these folks were militant vegetarians anyhoo… In addendum, Vann and Annie don’t expect to see any coin from the festival promoters – who apparently owed them five figures – because of the County’s predilection for asset liquidation and financial opportunism.

(It seems The County hijacked the dosh and the gate receipts from the Burning Man promoters… the local government claims the organizers owe The County 40K for “services”; the promoters liken it to “protection money” (I’m paraphrasing), including fees for forty eight (!) fire trucks on standby.)

Annie says, “It makes me realize why we burn the Man in the first place.”

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