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A Burner Lexicon: Center Camp

Posted in A Burner Lexicon, and Burning Man

Center Camp at night. Black Rock City, 2011. Photo by lemur2.

Center Camp, –proper noun, All communities need a central gathering place. In historic times, a town green provided a place to meet, share and graze the livestock. Black Rock City is no different (especially if you include people in animal costumes). You will find Center Camp where the two great arms of the curved temporary city meet, facing into the heart of Burning Man where an open expanse of playa surrounds the effigy.

Center Camp is a massive shade structure — the official website claims it is “largest temporary freestanding tensile shade structure in the world” — topped with flags that add visibility in the high desert winds. It is one place in the city where you can guarantee finding someone else awake at any time of day or night.

A performance inside Center Camp. Black Rock City, 2007. Photo by Elaine.

Many have lamented that our town centers have turned into shopping malls. While Center Camp is a great deal more vibrant than any mall, it is one of the few places where sanctioned, non-black market commerce takes place. Underneath the shade is a full service café staffed by volunteer baristas slinging hot & cold caffeinated drinks, bottled water and overpriced electrolyte drink packets. Unlike just about everywhere else, you’ll pay cash for one of these drinks. The other big exception — ice vending — is also located nearby. Proceeds from ice go to the local community around Burning Man while the BMORG pockets the proceeds of the café.

Center Camp is a favorite place to get out of the heat & enjoy entertainment of all kinds. It has formal spaces for music, spoken word & other art but often plays host to spontaneous performances by creative participants seeking a ready audience. It is a refreshing place to stay out of the sun, and its lights and promise of relaxed human company are a beacon at night.

The lexicographer often wonders whether Center Camp exists partly as a set of training wheels for ardent consumerists, terrified at the prospect of an entire week without anywhere to spend money on a morning latte.

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