Chillin’ with the Original Burning Man

April 29, 2018

Sad to hear of Larry’s passing today.  He had a kind spirit.  I wrote this a couple of years back.

Chillin’ with the Original Burning Man on the Luggage Store Gallery Rooftop

I know it’s impossible for natives to believe this but I didn’t know what Burning Man was when I arrived in the Tenderloin in 2009.  The mayor’s office certainly knew who they were, and they knew Burning Man had recently created the Black Rock Arts Foundation.  “Burning Man is loaded!” the mayor’s staff said.  “They can revitalize mid-Market!”

Larry Harvey, Burning Man’s founder, is an inquisitive, super smart guy with a friendly spirit.  He and his colleagues were weighing the prospect of settling their headquarters in mid-Market.  Larry was moving forward cautiously with eyes wide open under his famous Stetson hat.  One late afternoon on the rooftop at 1007 Market Street, the home of the iconic Luggage Store Gallery, we chatted and looked out at the intersection of 6th & Market, one of the most fascinating intersections of any city anywhere.

I sensed the hesitancy about moving to the area.   I think one of Larry’s concerns was whether Burning Man would be perceived as an interloper.   I remember offering him my two cents: “You see that intersection down there?  That is a great city meeting place for all.  It belongs to no one; it belongs to everyone.  If you come it will belong to you just like it belongs to everyone else.”

While moving to the area was a question mark, Larry was clear on his view of city hall’s mid-Market arts district plans.  He told me: “They will let us furry animals out for a while, and then when they don’t need us anymore they will put us back in our cages.”  (Easily one of the more memorable observations during my five years in the TL.)

With that we walked back to the death-defying ladder leading from the roof down to the third floor rear window at the Luggage Store Gallery.   I don’t know what ultimately led Burning Man to move to the neighborhood or what led them to leave.  I do know that, not long after, the city proved Larry Harvey’s Little Furry Animals Theory right.