In August 2016, my sprint on the website coincided with Burning Man. I watched the live stream while I programmed.
When the stream started, a camera operator would sometimes provide commentary. After he left "to do some self-care", I never heard from him again, but the stream continued for the rest of the week, silent.
The camera was set to auto-pan. Every few minutes, it would swivel to a new vista. The mountains remained consistent in the background, dark and often partially obscured by clouds. But the flat foreground was a changing array of giant bug sculptures, steam-punk pagodas, and scrap-heap automobiles on bright white sand.
Regardless of where the camera landed, there was a swarm of bikes. Bikes in the foreground, bikes in the distance. Gangs of bikes, solo bikes. Bikes while I ate dinner and Burning Man ate breakfast. When I woke up, the neon-lit bike wheels spun across the dark panorama of the live stream.
In Berlin, it was the summer of the bike food courier. Deliveroo and Foodora were in an obnoxious market-share battle, saturating the city with their ads. Their couriers could often be seen sitting in circles on their empty delivery bags, as though around a campfire.
During this week of intensive work, I didn't go out. I ordered Deliveroo with a one-time promotional offer. I ordered Foodora with a one-time promotional offer. I ate at my desk, beside the bikes of the start-up founders.
This year, I learned that Burning Man's "leave no trace" policy is enforced by the Bureau of Land Management, the federal entity responsible for managing public, non-park lands in the United States. The BLM inspects Black Rock Desert post-burn, looking for MOOP, Matter Out Of Place.
According to the Burning Man MOOP guidelines, even a pencil on the ground is enough to precipitate the formation of a sand dune in the extremely flat desert.
I also read about the playa on top of which Black Rock City is built and re-built. A playa is one of the flattest geological formations, created by the disappearance of a lake. Sometimes playas are alkali flats, the remains of evaporated salt lakes.
The evaporation of salt lakes is the earth performing a sowing of salt, as the Hittites and Assyrians did with cities they had conquered, cursing any future settlement that might build on the land. Burning Man toys with this curse in a way that only the wealthy can: with no apparent danger.
I learned about sowing with salt via the legend of the Romans salting Carthage after its conquest in 146 BC. Carthage, whose name in Phoenician meant "new city", was founded in 700 BC, an extension of Tyre, which was the old city to its new city.
Humans have been in the Black Rock Desert since 11,000 BC. Between the founding of Tyre and the founding of Carthage, the Paiute people were the first known settlers of Black Rock Desert in 1300 BC. They used the huge black rock outcroppings as landmarks.
I have never been to the Black Rock Desert, but I know that approaching the Black Hills in South Dakota, even in a car, is an hours-long event. The black line hangs on the horizon and appears, for a time, to retain a static distance from the car, never to be reached.
On the Burning Man livestream, the black mountains also remain at a distance. The camera swivels; the party plateaus in a consistent frenzy that is barely heightened by the final burn. And then, the last morning, someone flips the switch, and the screen goes dark.