As a Bay Area native, Burning Man has always existed at the edge of my plane of awareness. I don't remember exactly when it shifted in my mind from "culty hippie pseudo-spiritual druggie art party that I definitely don't want to go to" to "culty hippie pseudo-spiritual druggie art party that roughly one-third of the people I know go to and also talk about incessantly for the rest of the year that I also still definitely don't ever want to go to, please stop telling me how much I'd like it because you are wrong."
I do clearly remember one summer after college, when I worked at a Berkeley co-op bakery favored by hippies -- remind me to tell you the one about the guy who came in wanting to trade a few of his pot brownies for our regular brownies, in lieu of payment -- and business crawled to a standstill come Burning Man week. The soy milk carton at the coffee station remained full; wheat-free vegan banana oat bran muffins sat sadly, rejected, behind their glass. "Wow," I remember thinking. "This Burning Man thing is really, well, a thing."
Ten years later, it's an ever-bigger thing. Most people you talk to -- even people who love it -- will tell you it's "over." Ticket prices now require second jobs and mortgages; tech moguls have run amok. I am fully aware that for many this is very sad, and if you are one of those people, I'm truly sorry for your loss. To each his or her own. For people like me -- who, I readily admit, have only ever experienced the superficial perimeter of the Burning Man mushroom cloud -- it means only that the hallmarks of Burner culture that used to make us skeptical at best and queasy at worst have been eliminated and replaced by new and different elements that make us want to throw up in new and different ways.
And yet, there are those things that, thankfully, never change. Like this: Every year, as 50,000 people descend on Black Rock City for a life-altering experience, San Franciscans experience something maybe even weirder: a city that doesn't feel overcrowded. Parking spaces proliferate over night; lines at popular brunch spots seemingly dissolve into the thin, fragrant air. It's beautiful, but almost eerie, not unlike the eye of a storm -- the latter half of which in this case is all your friends coming back from Burning Man, posting nonstop photos of it, wanting to talk about it, and making everyone else deal with their dust-covered crap.
The other pure Burning Man-related joy to which I treat myself every year around this time is simpler: Burning Man Craigslist. That's right, for a couple weeks every year, no matter the section -- "for sale," "community," "personals" -- entering the words "burning man" into the search bar yields some incredible results. Gently used rainbow booty shorts abound, as do fake fur coats that, I gather, are are best paired with assless chaps. (As my esteemed colleague Sarah Hotchkiss just wondered aloud, what would happen if a recently-landed alien were to try to piece together an idea of Burning Man based solely on Craigslist? Hilarity.)