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Patrick Brings it Texas Style (and…he’s never even been to Burning Man)

The 27th of April was perhaps the longest day of work I have ever experienced. It seemed that the hours at work stretched slowly as the phone never rang; no e-mails to speak of as everyone was pretty much on the road by that time to converge on a little place called Pearlington, Mississippi.

We converged on this small town from all over the country. The mission; to celebrate the second anniversary of the formation of Burners Without Borders. The call came from Project HQ in the form of an e-mail declaring the intent of the community to come together once again to render aid and entertainment to this group of hardy and resourceful townsfolk. I knew that I had to answer that call with run-on sentences and BBQ. I had been inspired at our regional event after having seen a 30 minute version of Burn on the Bayou. It was a revolutionary idea to me; I can help more than just my local burn community, using the gear and skills I have learned during my burn tenure to bring water, power, and basic infrastructure to the forefront of disaster, where the exigency of need breaks down social barriers, joining us in a common bond much like what I experience during my burn events. The situation is so powerful that we are able to look past the standard outgroup biases that color our perceptions. We are able to communicate on a level so primordial; hands helping other hands in labor, struggling against the elements with naught to see us through but our capability to act as a team.

The interesting thing that I experienced, however, as I was not a part of that original foray, were the ripples in the pond. The situation was not as great as it once was; the storm had passed, houses had been rebuilt, the bar was once again functional (although I think I saw a power cord snaking to the lightpole powering the place gawd don’t tell!). Those social boundaries were still not present. Oh, certainly it had been watered down by population influx; there were new folk at this event, folk that did not experience the original event, much like I did not. Almost as certainly, some of those old filters unrelated to us had been reinforced. What I can tell you with certainty, however, was the fact that we were welcomed and accepted.

Here is the secret, the magic, that makes Burners Without Borders worthwhile to me. I love to work; I love to have projects with burners where we bust our ass all day long and then party just as hard the next night. We play as hard as we work and in the final analysis, it is the community that keeps me coming back. It does not matter if it is in the middle of the swampy bayous of Mississippi, in the Texas hill country, or maybe even somewhere in a desert; it is the transformation I value. The situation creates a backdrop for that transformation, be it blinky lights and oontza oontza, big art and a massive fire, or the total devastation of all human creation as far as the eye can see; all these can be a tool for me to step outside of myself and challenge the beliefs I hold. To reassess the world and my place in it and be humbled a bit from my ego with the realization that while I can be radically self reliant; it is sharing my joy that makes this worthwhile. The joyful thing is that there is a side effect to this journey. A side effect that does not exist in our burn events. Certainly lives are transformed at our events; our lives, the lives of those participants that make the journey. Left without a trace.

This new activity of ours does leave a trace. It leaves permanent structures rebuilt with burner values. It leaves people that would never have had a chance to experience our lifestyle with a taste of what could be. There are those that are ready to be released from the Matrix, and this is a safe way to unearth the next new art installation; to maintain fresh life and energy into this thing we are participating in. It allows me to gift with no expectations of return, but I digress.

The journey itself was rather uneventful. Ours was a group of 5. Three in the truck hauling the travel trailer, and two following behind in my Honda insight. Our mission: to feed Pearlington. When I heard that there was going to be a community BBQ, this is what tipped the balance. You see, I am not an artist in the visual sense. I do not create art cars or art installations. Mine is a more visceral art, but one that oddly parallels what we do at our events. I cook BBQ. It gets eaten. I cook BBQ, it gets eaten.

The fact of the matter is that I am at heart extremely shy (some who know me will not believe this). I am not a good cold-caller. I do not feel comfortable walking up to people I do not know and simply jumping into the conversation. Instead, I attract people with the smells I create with my grill. I always set up in the same spots; event after event. People learn where good food is and they come back time after time. It also happens that my food rocks so much ass I sometimes just shake my head at myself. Did I mention I am a bit egotistical?

I am also an event organizer myself, so when the call came out, immediately, my head began to buzz with numbers; 650 townsfolk, figure around 40% attendance, 40 volunteers maybe initial projection. I came prepared to feed 150 at the community BBQ, and about 30 volunteers for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning Freaktacular Chili Dogs. We brought our infrastructure and about half our theme camp gear. I knew Project staff would be flying in and would therefore not have their playa gear (you will note I even assume they camp at events). The event unfolded in my head and the itinerary sprang to mind. I penned it and sent it to Carmen and Action, but I could tell that I did not do a good job of communicating our intent due to their surprise when we arrived Friday morning and set up.

Maybe they were surprised as well that I value outreach as a primary function of this type of an event; reinstilling values of gifting solidifying relations with the populace, as a driving force of my participation. I wanted them to experience what a theme camp is, at least in the Austin sense of the word. I wanted to create a little piece of our world for these folks to poke and question. Camping is universal outside the city; and these folks got a taste of the next level. I was given an opportunity by Project staff to participate in a piece of our history and I saw it for what it is. This is the next stage of evolution of the Project. This is what happens when the bubble bursts. If you don’t know what I mean, please think about that for a bit.

Once a year is not enough for some of us.

Some others of us are no longer into that thing in the desert for one reason or another.

These kind of events are nailing home the truest sense of inclusion that may soon not be possible at most of our events due to capped attendance. How do we successfully fend off corporate America with a budget of over 12 million dollars? How do we face the fact that there are more people that want to participate in what we do than there is room for that participation?
There is a new generation of burner; I am calling us the Regional generation. Why do I call us that?

I have never been to Burning Man.

What’s more, only two of the five that came in our crew have actually been to the thing in the desert.

After reading what I have written up to now, would you have guessed that?
I know I saw blank surprise in Maid Marian’s face when I told her. And then pleasure. Why pleasure? Cause I think she recognized that the Project had given birth. Here was a person telling her (I had no idea who she was; like I said I am ignorant about what happens at the Playa) about spreading burner values and activating new artists and about the evolution of the Project. A person so inspired by my love for our community that we brought “it” all the way to Pearlington. But enough about me; what about the event itself?

We managed to find the worksite without much trouble; arriving around 9 am. It took us about 30 minutes to set up our theme camp (Pharaoh’s Trailer Park) and get the grill going, and we had our first meal mustered to begin at around 11:30 am. This would be the first opportunity for those not of our group to stick my meat in their mouth. Once again my pit worked its predictable magic. Soon, people were coming by not only to enjoy the chairs we set out (chairs and BBQ are the best hippie bait), but to also offer us a warm welcome to their town. We met volunteers, townsfolk, Vistacorps youth, and Project staff, all with an honest curiosity as to their nature. This was where the outreach started for me. I did not know anyone except Carmen (who I met at Flipside 07) and the people I brought with me, but we had recreated our theme camp so the atmosphere put me right at home. My grill and the situation empowered me to throw off my fear and participate fully, speaking from the heart and making connections with everyone I could. Did I mention I like to flirt? I have a bit of caveman in me.

The work went quickly, but it consumed all our time. Time passed as projects were completed. We communed in a limited fashion, but our attention was consumed by the tasks at hand. It turned out that the projects we committed to did not leave us enough time to create any burnable art for the party Saturday night. Once again, Tom (assisted by Kevin) saved the day. Tom gave a speech to a group of Americorps volunteers (kids aged 19-22) that literally brought tears to my eyes. The speech I do not have the power to recreate, but I will tell you that after he demonstrated what it was to create burnable art, those kids turned on the jets. When he handed over the nailgun and the first piece was created, I heard one of the kids say to the other “we can make anything we want? Let’s make a dragon!” and heard no more out of them for the next hour short of “are there anymore nails?”

Those kids produced 5 beautiful pieces of burnable art I have ever experienced, without neon or LSD, and I got a chance to explain to them how much it meant to us. Those pieces of art they produced were truly the heart of the outreach we were performing; created by those that had never been to the Playa. Those kids were transformed by their labor. I knew because we watched it on their faces as their art burned. We saw that light reflected as well by the townsfolk who came to see the screening of Burn on the Bayou and that tasted our BBQ. I heard them cheer as they saw their faces on the screen and I felt the sense of community generated by the BBQ and discussion that followed. I saw lives and hearts transformed by the fruit of our labor and I received far more than I could have ever dreamed of from that small bit of gifting Austin was able to lend to the Project.

When all was said and done, we left with a spirit of community and satisfaction I had not thought possible. I felt connected to the Playa in a way that the ticket to Burning Man I had never purchased could not. I became, in my own way, a part of Burners Without Borders. Thank you all for giving me this opportunity to serve.

-Patrick Austin, TX


6 Responses to “Patrick Brings it Texas Style (and…he’s never even been to Burning Man)”

  1. Red Moss says:

    Thank you Patrick for going and showing the love you have for our community. I was in tears after reading this. I am glad to have you and Kevin as fellow leaders in Austin.

  2. Sparrow says:

    You guys rock! Thanks for sharing — both this with us, and Us with “them”. Spread the word, change the world, affect some lives… Love it! Thank you!

  3. You guys just don’t know how great it was for to see Burning Man back in P-town… (Pearlington). I for one won’t to thank everyone for there hard work both in our town and on the movie ” Burn on the Bayou”. It was great, I can’t wait to share it with everyone I know. Who knows maybe I may find my way to the desert !!! You never know.

  4. Karine says:

    Aw.. wonderful letter, Patrick! and * remember * you promised to share that Great Texan BBQ recipe with us!

    And Miss Connie, it was OUR pleasure to see YOU ALL again! I am sure we’ll see you again, soon. Thanks for joining us for the picnic and still hanging out & making everyone laugh. You always make the room lighter, just by being in it.

    Sending extra love to P-town ! >*<

  5. LeChatNoir says:


    It was great fun to meet you but it was more fun to eat your cookin’!!!


    But seriously… Being able to work on a project and then come back to camp to find your BBQ waiting was a beautiful finish to the workday. Do not under-rate yourself, my friend. Your gift is a wonderful thing and the best part about it was not what was on the grill, but the smiling face behind it.

    Yes… your Spirit. I think that was the most beautiful thing.

    Karine and I will make it to Flipside eventually. And when we do, your grill is the first place I’m seeking out.


  6. Carrie Sandahl says:

    Patrick! You’re BBQ is linked on the SFGate website! So good to see you in your element… I’ll always find it ironic that one of the best meals I had in Paris was prepared by you on the Nova Boat! Hope you and yours are doing great. Looking forward to seeing you at your first Burning Man in 2009!