The fun starts at the costume shops of Haight street -- with BRC-themed displays for weeks before, and ever-more -frantic shoppers leading up to event kickoff (and even midweek for later arrivers). The CruiseAmerica RV rental place near Oakland Airport seems to be nonstop burners the kickoff weekend. (They probably bring in extra vehicles from around the country to meet the demand.)
As you snake up I-80, every highwayside REI, Target, and Wal-Mart between SF and Reno has evidence of burner purchasing. Wal-Marts have special front-of-store presentations of exactly the camper/raver/cycling/desert supplies burners need. And plenty of Home Depots, from SF to Reno, are filled with people buying building and art supplies.
And then: you reach the 'oasis' of no commerce at Black Rock. The contrast is beautiful; the experiment in intentional and temporary community is perception-altering, with lessons for the rest of the world.
But if you fail to notice that it's the wealth and specialization of a giant, competitive, cash-seeking economy that made it all possible, you're blind to the whole picture. Barter economies never invent EL wire and computer-controlled LED displays, among other things.
> My new friend then “gifted” this young girl a $300 ticket. She jumped with joy, we arrived at the Wal-Mart, and she thanked us both for the ride, jumped out, and gave us each a Blow
It's a shame, because that would have made the article much more fun.
Burning Man (at least for me) was a place where you would go with a big crazy project that you could never hope to accomplish. But somehow "the playa would provide" and people would come help you complete it. And "gifting" isn't about cheap trinkets or bartering. It's about giving your time and skills to people that could use it. I've helped repair an engine, build structures, painted a boat, clean up trash, and more. People have fed me, taken care of me while dehydrated, given me rides, bought my ticket, etc.
In some ways, it's helped me be more adventurous with creating a business. Sometimes you need to take that leap of faith that resources will show up.
I came back the first time and literally cried at seeing all of the trash barrels overflowing in my home town on garbage day. (EDIT: I live 2500 miles away.) I also spent months researching all sorts of things I was excited by as a boy. Lots of people go to Burning Man to "rage" and take lots of drugs and go wild. But there are lots of others that create things and share them with people that create things too.
Huh. I don't have that side. The part of me that would be upset because of poor service would rather stay upset, and doesn't care at all about free meals.
I think the real reason it works so well, is there are huge numbers of people who go there because they have an insatiable desire to build things, (both physically and in terms of a community) and making your neighbour's burn better makes yours better.
It's like vacation on steroids -- everybody is happy because they are doing exactly what they want to do right then (in the context of the event, of course).
This doesn't sound quite the same, but similar. As one of the commenters points out, the economy is self-selecting, which helps.
As for Burning Man, it makes no sense to call it an "economy" when there is no scarcity. Every participant, with a few exceptions, has brought everything they need for survival in the desert for a week. Due to the nature of the event, few people are seeking luxuries.
Gifts at Burning Man are more about creating a mutually wonderful experience. Sometimes they take physical form, but more often the donation is directly related to experience -- art, performance, or a heightened generosity of spirit. This is not very much different from the change of attitude one might have at a potluck dinner, a block party, or a large rock concert where the fans feel themselves to be part of a particular subculture.