Utilitarian Cocktails for a Utopian Society 

Energy drinks. Vitamin drinks. Hydration drinks. These all have begun to fill the shelves at your grocery and local convenience store over the past few years. It is only to be expected that energy drinks such as Red Bull would be married with alcohol to help fuel those all-night dance sessions the kids are raving about. Mixing two drugs, a stimulant and a depressant, in one chilled glass serves multiple purposes. And in today’s society we must always consider the two birds with one stone approach.

For three years in a row now I have attended the Burning Man festival two hours north of Reno, Nevada set upon the idyllic Black Rock Desert playa. “Idyllic,” is a stretch. Actually the occurs an alkali dry lake bed the size of Rhode Island. It is a feat in human effort to create a city of 40,000 people with streets, islands of port-o-potties and no water or shade for miles out of nothing. It is so flat that out in the middle one can almost see the curve of the Earth if it were not for mirages, dust storms that produce whiteout conditions, or the fact that the lake actually bulges slightly in the middle. It is hot and cold with daytime temperatures pushing triple digits, nighttime temperatures dipping to almost freezing. The alkali dust the consistency of talcum powder wicks away moisture from your body, stripped of clothing (partly through heat, mostly through radical self-expression) leaving one dehydrated.

Despite knowing that I always suffer a slight dehydration and heat exhaustion in the first few days of the event I attempt to prepare my body through a radical hydration plan. The goal and common saying among Burners is to “Piss Clear.” If one’s urine is the color of water then you are pushing enough liquids through the kidneys. Urine the color of motor oil is bad, under any circumstances. I have come to realize in my three years that water alone will not help me. I must have electrolytes, vitamins and salt as well. Otherwise my muscles begin to cramp and I tease that demon called heat exhaustion all week long.

We Burners are not there to experiment with our bodies over how much the environment can affect us. While the philosophy is self-expression and self-reliance, most of us are there to party too. So what does one do when it comes to alcohol, known to exasperate the effects of dehydration? Simple, you invent utilitarian cocktails.

In this gifting economy that is Burning Man, participants set up theme camps. Some are discos, others small theaters. But the favorites are the bars. People bring booze to give away. Yes, give away. Over the course of the week I experienced many unique concoctions from a myriad of bars such as the Whiskey and Whores Saloon, Spike’s Vampire Lounge, where sangria is served out of blood plasma bottles and tubes, the Bloody Mary Morning Camp and even my own Sunset Pirate Happy Hour Cruise party (I served Bumboo). Drinks are often mixed in large jugs with spigots and patrons are expected to bring their own cups. It’s a utopian world.

Pink Shit is a commonly served drink made with a couple cans of pink lemonade (or anything else that will color the drink pink such as Grenadine) and a bottle of whatever you have sitting around camp. It could be vodka. It could be rum or tequila. It doesn’t matter. What most give-away bars have in common is that you won’t be getting your drink poured out of a glass bottle. Plastic is the preferred bottle choice on the playa. You’d be lucky to get some ice too.

One of my concoctions is the Playa Duster. Made simply with vodka, a couple teaspoons of powdered Gatorade or similar electrolyte drink mix and a pinch of playa dust. It gets you drunk and replaces the salts you lost sweating. Hopefully it will have a little ice in it so you can get some water too. The playa dust is a simple garnish as after 24 hours everything you own will be covered in dust anyway. If you can’t beat it, join it.

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