My guest is Lee Merschon. He is the founder of Camp Epic, a theme camp at Burning Man.
Born in Israel in 1981, our guest had a tumultuous childhood, moving between countries and struggling with lying and theft. However, after realizing that the root of his problems was within himself, he began to make changes and eventually graduated with a degree in psychology from UC Davis. He discovered magic and experienced a major injury, but persevered and even went on a year-long journey through Central and South America, Europe, and Israel. He eventually met his wife in Berlin and started a business in Los Angeles, where he also discovered Burning Man and started a camp focused on hosting fluid projects and fostering creativity and connection. Our guest has faced many challenges and come out on the other side, making him a unique and inspiring individual.
We talked about
(0:22) The relationship between theme camp organizers
(4:16) The line between snarky and mean at Burning Man
(5:47) Why the founder of Camp Epic has returned for 10 years
(15:29) The relationship between statistics and miracles
(32:38)(47:17) Why every camp at Burning Man is a plug-and-play camp
(39:51) The evolution of the founder's leadership over the past 10 years
(53:19) How the problem of plug-and-play was solved at Camp Epic
(76:05) How Camp Epic governs and makes decisions
(82:19) How 'success' is measured as a camp
(83:54) Lessons for aspirational camp organizers
(90:56) Three ways Burning Man has affected the founder's life outside of the event
(100:35) The ripple effects seen from Camp Epic
(102:52) One idea to share with the audience
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[00:00:00] CK: Today's guest is the founder of Camp Epic, who's been around for more than 10 years.
Special gratitude to Jonathan Yudis. He's the co-founder Camp Mystic. And he wants me to tell you that he thinks you rock.
Please welcome Lee Maro.
[00:00:17] Lee: Yeah, Jonathan rocks himself. .
[00:00:20] CK: So, first question wanna ask you is what's the relationship between think camp organizers?
[00:00:26] Lee: Oh, that's a very good question. For many, there isn't, It's actually very tough to get into. Uh, the job of a Burning Man theme camp organizer. We call ourselves TCOs. Uh, it's quite a tough, it's quite a tough endeavor. Um, so for those who discover the Burning Man theme camp Organizer group, there's about 5,000 of them on there.
Wow. And I believe there was about 2000 and some change camps at Burning Man. And the best way to communicate with all of them at once currently [00:01:00] is, as far as I know, is that Burning Man theme camp group. Um, but other than that, there was a symposium once a year that everybody talks to and, uh, that everybody attends everybody who wants to.
And, uh, as he progressed through the years, you, you form connections with other TCOs and it's, it's a very, uh, dynamic environment where with, with a lot of subgroups and silos involved mm-hmm. , and with the years, you get more and more connected to different factions of that group.
[00:01:34] CK: So let's actually talk about that.
Uh, I mean, I'm new to burning man. I'm year three. You're year 10, right? So what are some of the different subcultures? And, and I'm actually part of that Facebook group. So it was interesting when I posed my question like, Hey, I'm gonna do an interview series. We can't organizers specifically around people that, uh, create consciously transformational [00:02:00] containers.
And it was interesting for me to receive some of the responses. And one was a Starkey response.
[00:02:07] Lee: Yeah, there's a lot of that
[00:02:08] CK: that, that cringe. That gave me a snarky response about transformational containers. So, . So what are some of the subculture, uh, of within the, I thinking
[00:02:22] Lee: organizers? It, it goes well. I wanna address that snarkyness that you got. Um, Was that your first time receiving snark from a burning group?
[00:02:33] CK: Well, in a group, in a, in a public way like that, they, you know, basically the guy gave me a virtual eye roll of . Yeah.
[00:02:42] Lee: Transformational container . There is interest. The 10 principles of burning men are quite, they're very loose in my opinion, and a few of them, uh, [00:03:00] oppose each other. For example, uh, radical self reliance and civic real respons, civic responsibility mean how can you go and help others who need to then take care of themselves?
So there's a lot of interpretation in. and those principles and the radical self reliance one specifically in my opinion shapes a lot of the snor because whenever anybody wants to collaborate in a way that helps others and reduces their self-reliance, somebody always pops up and says, Oh, well, sn sn s snark.
And it's actually so, it's so prevalent in burning man groups and even more so outside the TCO group. Um, it's everywhere. And at this point it's almost accepted as a, as as part of the culture. You're supposed to be snarky.
[00:03:49] CK: Yeah. Is that right? So, okay. So as a, as a new burner. As a new burner, Let me ask you this question.
There's a certain, [00:04:00] you know, you be snarky for fun, right? So both people, Or both parties or multiple parties enjoy the Snar Nest, Like, oh yeah, it's just part of Burning Man. And then, then you can also venture into meanness. So how, where is the , the balance between, uh, snarky for, for the sake of collective joy versus snarky, just like I'm being mean to you?
[00:04:28] Lee: I don't know what that line is, but it seems to be the, uh, an opposing force between, you're supposed to be nice to everybody burning mine, especially, you know, and, and accepting. Um, another one is inclusion.
That's another principle, but at the same time, how can you be inclusive when you're being snarky? Mm-hmm. . And I don't really know where that line is, uh, but I seem, it seems to be crossed a lot and the way I, I used to [00:05:00] retort to it on the burning groups, but at some point I just learned to ignore it and figured, okay, it's just part of, it's, it's part of the experience and I'm just gonna let those people be snarky and go about my day.
[00:05:12] CK: Yeah, yeah. I mean, same here. You know, just more of a learning to accept and, and laugh it off. That's, that's, you know, three years of being part of this community, uh, the conclusion that I've come to. So, um, well, let me ask this cuz uh, theme camp organizers, as you said, is a very special group of people, in my mind, is an extraordinary amount of effort, intentionality, thoughts.
Labor money going into creating a theme camp. So, uh, what makes you, uh, go back year after year for the last 10 years? ,
[00:05:54] Lee: I, I personally have a, an [00:06:00] addiction to burning and I, I believe many TCLs do. And
[00:06:03] CK: Okay, say more about that. A different addiction.
[00:06:06] Lee: That, that addiction comes from. Two very interesting things that I experienced at Burning Man for the first time.
Number one is a disconnect from money, which didn't affect me so much on my first time. As much as I realize how much it's affecting so many others at Burning Man, and therefore creating an interesting environment, uh, where there is no VIP booth like you, you can't buy yourself into status at Burning Man now.
I'm talking statistically, I'm sure there are ways to buy yourself into status. And I was amazed to actually see it in action a few times. But in general, there is no collective way to do it. And, um, that really evens out the playing field where it doesn't matter if you own a corporation or if you're homeless, your chances of getting on top of their art car are the same mm-hmm.
Um, [00:07:00] so that to, to be in that environment is very, is very unique. Um, the second one is gifting. Um, and I learned a lot about this from Hal Cion. I don't know if you're familiar with that character who runs Pink Heart. He's a TCO for Pink Heart. Um, the, the gifting idea where, and I'm somewhat quoting him, when somebody gives you something, your first thought is immediately to.
To feel guilty of, Oh, what can I give them back? Mm-hmm. . Yeah. In the default world, that's how it works. Mm-hmm. . Um, but at burning man, it's a gifting economy. And when people, when somebody gives you something, they just give it to you to give it to you. And they're not expecting anything in return. And I get to experience a lot with, uh, with virgins.
When I give them a gift, immediately they reach out and say, Oh, and this is for you. And it's not because they're trying to bar, but that's what they feel like they need to do once they get a gift. And my immediate go to almost always is not to accept their gift no matter what it is, [00:08:00] because they need to learn how to receive.
And that's the very strong lesson when you go to Burning Man for your first time and you get showered with gifts, whether it's just a hug, a song, or something materialistic to let go of that feeling of, Oh, what can I give back and just accept? And it's intoxicating. Once you do learn how to do that and just say thank you and the playing field is even, you find yourself in a.
In like a si a very special silo that, where that feeling only exists as far as I ever experienced at Burning Man. And you can't feel that feeling anywhere else. And it's addictive. So that's why I go back now. The second reason why I go back is because I, I'm an efficiency freak and I like to do things, um, more and more efficiently.
Mm-hmm. . And if I go down this tangent, I'm gonna go down a, like a rabbit hole that I might be talking for 20 minutes. Do you want me to go down this roll the
[00:08:59] CK: [00:09:00] efficiency hole? Yeah, let's do it. Yeah.
[00:09:01] Lee: Okay. Sure. Um, man, well we'll see where this goes. And stop me if it goes away from Burning Man Too much. But there is a Ssy Whaf, I think it's spelled that way.
The hypothesis where you, What was that word again? What was that word? Uh, fear Warf. Hypothe.
[00:09:23] CK: Fear war hypothesis. Okay. Tell me about
[00:09:26] Lee: the hypothesis. It's where the structure of LA language determines the native speaker perception of the world and everything around them. So the grammatical and structure of your language influences how you perceive everything, and I believe it applies to all beings.
So your brain provides you with the capacity for thought and then the tools are the language that you use. Yep. But the tools are not necessarily determining what the thought is. For example, freedom. If you catch a bird, you put it in the cage, you keep it there for a few days, when you [00:10:00] open that cage, you will go away.
It will fly out. Uh, it has the idea or the notion that it wants to be free. It doesn't necessarily have the word for it, but the word freedom, once you do have a language, has a bunch of synonyms like, uh, ability, flexibility, immunity, opportunity, power, privilege, those are all forms of freedom. Mm-hmm. and.
Um, one of my favorites is actually by Mandela. And it's, uh, to be free is not merely to cast one chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. That doesn't have anything to do with the conversation, but that's one of my favorite definitions of freedom. Um, there's a movie called Arrival that came out, I think in 2016.
Have you seen it? Yep. I have. Supposedly it's about aliens, but they had a circular language all their mm-hmm. . Um, their language symbols were all circular based, whereas humans, we write from left to right or right to left, top down. It's all linear. And it indicates [00:11:00] that as you write the time of the sentence, as, as with your thought, you think in a linear fashion and everything moves forward and the aliens thought in the circular fashion.
So for them, um, every time you write a word, it doesn't dis represent the moment that the word is written at, but also, It the future of the president in, in the past. And when you immerse yourself in that language, the main character was able to see to the past in the future. So for me, I grew up in a, an environment where by age six I spoke three languages and it gave me the tools to think a certain way.
Um, this is gonna get to burning man soon. . It gave me the tools to, to think a certain way and expanded the amount of tools that I have to perceive the world. I didn't understand how that was gonna affect my life until much later when I learned my fourth language, um, which was math. And [00:12:00] I, I was a pretty bad student at school.
I was a pretty bad kid and I didn't study much in high school, not math, physics or anything. I, I just attended class, but my mind wasn't there. So when I finally had to learn math in order to transfer from community college to. Get a four year degree. I discovered trigonometry. And I remember a very specific question where, um, we had to calculate where play needed to go.
And I realized, Oh, math has such a utility. If I learn math, I'm able to navigate and I'm able to build things. Like you cannot create massive structures without trigonometry and calculus. You cannot have radio waves, microwave tv. This conversation wouldn't be possible, uh, with the distance between us. And it's all comes down to trig.
So I immersed myself in that fourth language as much as possible, and I realize that that's a [00:13:00] precursor to a few other sub languages of math, which are physics, chemistry, Um, and chemistry is a precursor for biology. And the strongest effect in my life was statistics, which was the second level language on math.
And I discovered the two terms, the normal curve and regression to the mean normal curve. Basically, once you immerse yourself in it, you eventually realize that the most amazing thing would be if amazing things didn't happen. Wait, wait, wait. Say that again. The most amazing thing would be if amazing things wouldn't happen.
So once you have the sample size big enough, amazing is inevitable. It has to happen. And if it wouldn't, that would be amazing. For example, if we flip a coin 10 times in a row, Yeah. With chance it lands heads 10 times in a row are practically zero. But if we flip that coin 10 [00:14:00] billion times, the chance lands 10 times in a row.
Heads are. It's extremely likely to happen. It would be amazing if it didn't land 10 times in a row. Yeah. In 10 billion flips. So when you look at the normal curve, let's say you plt all the humans on the planet and how lucky they are, somebody inevitably is out there all the way at the tip of the normal curve at the highest point, the hundredth percentile.
That's the luckiest person on earth. Mm-hmm. , inevitably that person exists. Mm-hmm. , it would be weird if they didn't. Mm-hmm. . Now equally there is the unluck person on earth. Yes. And it's not their fault. It just an accumulation of all this. Their decisions and events that just didn't work out and they happen to be at the bottom end of that scale.
Yes. So it statistics enabled me to see that amazing things are commonplace and when you stop treating them as amazing, which, which some people view as as depressing, and you [00:15:00] realize it's commonplace, you're able to look at the world with an even playing field and just very logically. Look at events and say, Well, that, that is not amazing.
That is just expected. And I can use the, the, the frequency at which it happens into my planning and be able to predict and go through life in a, in a easier fashion.
[00:15:23] CK: Um, wait, wait. Go back last sentence one more time. The frequency that it happens to predict life is
[00:15:28] Lee: a what? If you expect something amazing to happen every so often, uhhuh, then you're able to predict the future more accurately.
Like as humans in science in general, our job is to predict the future. Uhhuh our job. I mean the scientists job. Yeah. If I were to be a scientist mm-hmm. , like the weatherman wants to know if it's gonna rain in a month. And That's right. The phy physicist or the chem, the chemist wants to know that if I put this two together, this will happen.
They can predict what will happen. Correct. So the, the job of scientist to predict the [00:16:00] future, and if you can look at things in a statistical fashion, Then you can expect how often something out of the ordinary will happen and use that in your calculations. Mm-hmm. , Um, some people ignore the stats and for them there's a lot of anecdotal, um,
I'm not sure how to say it. Uh, there's an anecdotal thought process and justification, uh, for hope necessarily. And, and I'm, and I'm, I'm gonna piece this together. For example, if, you know, there are stories about people who see the afterlife right before they die and they say, Well, but I saw the light. Now again, you go back to the normal curve and I would tell you that for it, for us not to find a thousand people that saw the afterlife as they almost died would be amazing.
So it's expected for us to hear these. It's natural. Those, those stories will happen. It's inevitable. Yeah. Uh, there's a whole lot of [00:17:00] people that almost died that came back that wouldn't tell you those stories, but the squeaky wheel gets to grease. Right. And if you're doing a story for YouTube, you want to interview the people who did experience the afterlife and you're inevitably gonna find em.
Okay. So that gives you purpose, um,
[00:17:14] CK: that gives you purpose. The narratives gives you
[00:17:17] Lee: purpose. Is that the narrative gives you purpose because as, as being, we want to be happy. Yes. Um, it's if you believe in actual selection, the being that wants to be happy and wants to find purpose and finds purpose has a higher reason to live.
Yes. If you're depressed, you have suicidal thoughts. When you're happy you wanna live, you're looking forward to the future. Yes. So beans who seek purpose are more advantageous to have a longer life. Yeah. As a species, it's a good thing for a species to be optimistic. Yes. And to justify events as good ones.
I broke up with my girlfriend, but, Oh, it's better this way. Well, of course it's better this way cuz this is a status quo. Yes. [00:18:00] And I'm gonna justify it as so, as such. Um, and that's good for the advancement of the species. So, um, where does it all lead to, to Bernie Man ? Yes. The, the realization that, that everything is expected or that everything falls into the normal curve led me to also realize that I live in a movie mm-hmm.
Right. Um, after studying enough math and science and physics and chemistry and I really immersed myself into it in, uh, when I went to college to make up for all the years, I, I didn't study anything in high school mm-hmm. . And eventually I realized after studying all that, it, it shaped the way I interacted with the world and how I perceived the world.
And I realized I don't have free will. Because in all these sciences, you understand causality. If I mix these two together, this comes out, this, Adam travels this way and hits that Adam, then it goes in that direction. Mm-hmm. . Now, if I were to hit a billiard ball, [00:19:00] um, if I were to hit a billiard bar, a cue ball, sorry, at, at the little triangle, and I paused a second before with the computer, powerful enough, I'll be able to tell you where all those balls are gonna end up, correct?
Mm-hmm. . But there is some margin of error, not because that error actually exists, but because I cannot calculate the error, the gravity of the computer calculating itself has an effect on where those balls are gonna be. A comment a million miles from here might shift one of the balls, one atom, and we can calculate all those things because they're variables to us.
But variables in my belief structure don't. Everything is a constant. Every piece of matter on the sea universe travels in a certain direction, has a certain mass, is either accelerating or decelerating, whatever. And if I pause the universe and some external computer and an external universe is able to look at all in your universe, take all those constants, plot them, then I'll be able to tell you where all of those pieces are gonna be one second from now.
And if I [00:20:00] can do that, what's stopping me from tell you whether they're gonna be 20 years from now? Like once you're outside the system, you can calculate the future. And to me, that equals fate. There's only one outcome for any given second. Um, and if that is the case, uh, I'm extremely lucky to be where I'm at because all my decisions are not my decisions.
They're inevitable decisions that I'm bound to make. And. , After learning all these sciences, I realized how lucky I am to end up where I'm at and not dead for crossing the street at age six and just getting run over just because, and for some people, that's where the universe leads them. So I view myself as somebody high up on that, uh, normal curve.
On the luck scale. I made it to age 40. That's already an achievement, you know, for luck alone. And if you knew me growing up, you would realize it's extremely lucky. Cuz I did my best to hurt myself and kill myself many times growing up. Mm-hmm. , uh, not on [00:21:00] purpose, but for lack of wisdom. Yeah. And, uh, therefore I'm lucky.
So if I don't control any of my decisions and I'm merely watching the movie of my life, which at all intent purposes doesn't really affect my life because I still have to live through these decision processes and feel like I'm making them. Um, so I, I'm very fortunate and I'm lucky to be alive and. For everything.
There was a ying and yang. And for a person who's lucky as me, there's somebody unlucky. And I found myself coming to Bernie man. And uh, I'm gonna tie it now back to Bernie. Man. If you can just remind me of the original question, so
[00:21:36] CK: Sure. Of course, of course. So, being a Bernie man, and you've been doing this for 10 years, it's one thing.
So you had talked about being a participant as a burn, as, as a burner. Right. But what I'm specifically asking you is you took on the job of being a theme camp organizer for the last 10 years. Okay. And I'm asking you [00:22:00] why do the extra work, the effort, the intentionality, the thought, right? The drama that you gotta deal with.
Correct. Why do that for Okay. The last 10 years. So
[00:22:10] Lee: here, I'm gonna tie it back in. Thank you for reminding me. Um, once I accepted my fate, it goes back to the quote from, uh, Nelson Mandela when I came across that where to live Free. It's not merely to cast your chains, but to live in a way that enhances the freedom of others.
And I realized I have the lucky opportunity to go to Bernie. Man. There's only 80,000 tickets sold. A lot of people who wanna go can't. Mm-hmm. . And as a tco, you get something that is called dgs, Direct Group Sale. Mm-hmm. . And they give you a number of tickets. Mm-hmm. , uh, it's, uh, it's a lot of power to give one person.
Mm. Uh, I email Bernie man, I submit a questionnaire. They say, Here's X number of tickets, and then I get to decide which people I bring with me. [00:23:00] Mm. Um, once you go to Bernie, man, you understand what power that is because to take somebody to Bernie man who's never been, um, that is to cast him of their. Mm.
That is to given that lucky break of, Oh, here's a way that you can look at life that you didn't even experience or realize you could before. Because it will provide you with a language set that you just don't currently have. And it's, it's a lot of power and it's intoxicating. Like to take a virgin to Bernie man to watch them, um, experience the player for the first time experience that the world where they learn how to receive gives them, uh, an amazing feeling.
But at the same time, it gives me an amazing feeling. And other people, other TCOs like me who have that power, it, it's a great feeling. So I want to take people to Bernie man. And even beyond that, when I saw Bernie Man for the first time, [00:24:00] I came across a camp called Sacred Spaces. Mm-hmm. , Um, I don't know if you ever heard of it.
No. But, It doesn't exist anymore. And this ties into the story. When I saw that camp, I was so impressed, um, at what they built. Uh, they created a space that it was about 30 foot tall made of, uh, shade, uh, sails. And it was all held by, I think about plus minus five, I don't know, about 10 electric electrical poles, pylons, like driven into the playa, and with a bunch of g wires that hold them into the, to the ground.
Created that 30 foot base. Uh, and then tied all those ropes between them, um, and the shade sales. And you walk into that space, which also had domes at the bottom, scattered around the perimeter of that structure, which was about 200 feet across. And without having a clue [00:25:00] what that space does, You just wanna stay in it.
It's kinda like walking into a very expressive, uh, impressive cathedral or a church. Even if you know nothing about religion, you never heard about religion. You walk into a cathedral and it's tough not to just feel, uh, a sense of awe and just you understand how much work and effort and foresight went into that place.
And I got that on ply. And what makes it even weirder than a cathedral is that it was on ply and it only exists for a week. And how can you create this thing just for one week and then take it apart? Mm-hmm. later I learned what the camp does, which is irrelevant to this conversation, but at the time I was just so impressed with the camp and my logical brain, post math, science, chemistry thought to itself, there is so much energy that goes into creating this space.
Mm-hmm. . And somehow my mind started wondering like, how is it done? And I wondered into politics, which I didn't have a deep understanding of at the time. But very quickly I pieced [00:26:00] together that in order to create such a space of burning Man, you need a whole lot of money. Mm-hmm. . And to get a whole lot of money, you need a few powerful people.
Um, I used to stock trade for a living. I was a prop trader in a firm in Las Vegas. And I have a very, um, a uncommon view of money. But in short, money is a silo of power. You work now, you get money for it, and then you can spend it later. And until then you can just hold onto that power. It's like potential energy.
It's a stretched rubber band. Mm-hmm. . And to create that space, you need a few people with a lot of stretched rubber bands that are willing to unwind them to create this space. Mm-hmm. . And I thought to myself, okay, if I have somebody with a stretcher over, if I have somebody with this energy to give and they give me a whole lot of it, we start approaching real world problems where.
If that person then says, Okay, I wanna bring my chef, how do you say no? [00:27:00] Right? Because then you have to give up, give up that energy. Um, so once you create a camp as powerful or as impressive as sacred spaces, and I don't know if any of this is true, right? This was all in my mind. Yep. Once you create a campus powerful as sacred spaces, you come to a political situation where you have to do what a few powerful members want you to do.
Otherwise your camp ceases to exist. Yep. After the burn, I did a little bit of research about sacred Spaces and I realized that their structure was, uh, rented from a company called Guild Works that build, uh, these kind of stages and structures for commercial purposes, for, uh, shows and bands and corporate events.
And it was extremely expensive. I know, because I called them and asked how much it would be to build for my camp the following year, and I realized it's exactly the problem that I thought it would be. I have to find very rich people to make it happen. And that's what I [00:28:00] set out to do from year one. I came up to the person that came to Birdman with me at 2011 and I told him, and he happened to be a wealthy person himself, and I said, Look, I'm gonna build something very amazing over the next 10 years.
Or at the time I thought five, I have no idea what it's gonna be, but I need you to get me the money for it, Okay? Mm-hmm. gave me a bunch of members who are all willing to pitch in and I'm gonna start this infrastructure. And all I knew at the time is that I'm gonna build something amazing while at the same time avoiding answering to one person.
And I had in the back of my mind the sentence from the movie Field of Dreams. Mm-hmm. , if you build it, they will come. Mm-hmm. , if you do it right, eventually the right members and the right people and the right situation will gravitate toward this camp. And again, I had no idea what that camp. All I had was sacred spaces and as an example of something I wanted to do, but in a different way than what I thought they were doing.
And that force, [00:29:00] that reasoning, kept me coming to Burning Man year after year, even though 2012 was one of my worst burns ever. Cause the person who I asked for money found me. 16 people were able to give me, I think it was, uh, $3,000 each. Mm-hmm. and I rented two RVs and got us a bunch of equipment and opened a camp called, uh, Unicorn Stardust.
And the reason it was called Unicorn Stardust.
[00:29:23] CK: Oh. Before you go into the story, I wanted to double click on the moment where you had that idea Right. From Sacred Spaces to let me enroll one person to say, Hey, I wanna back you with this, because there's a lot there. And I se. Some of the people watching this may be aspirational, Kemp organizers such as yourself back in 2011.
So I wanted to double click on that. So in that moment, you were inspired by sacred spaces. You said, Hey, I wanna do something similar, building a beautiful, uh, space, [00:30:00] um, and let me go out and basically share this idea with some of my powerful friends. And, and as a way for you to, to back you get the, get the resources that you need.
Right? You, I love that you, you quoted the feel of dreams. You just, if I built it, they will come. If I shared this idea, they will come. What did you find that conviction of, Hey, this, I know it's just an idea in my head. I don't have an exact design yet. Even let me just go out and start to talk to people to get them to be on my side to provide the resources that, that potential energy that you talked about.
[00:30:41] Lee: Oh, I wish it was that magical as you, as you perceived it to be , when I said, if you build it, they will come. I was talking about the final product. Mm-hmm. the road to get there. And I was so wrong because I wished I saw it. Like you see it now, I thought [00:31:00] that if I got enough money, I could do it on my own.
Mm-hmm. . And to me it wasn't, I need to convince 16 people to believe in my idea. It was just I need and 16 people, because that's what fell two RVs. Mm-hmm. , um, is I need to convince 60 people to give me their money because I'm gonna explain to them that I'm about to take them to the coolest place in the world.
Mm-hmm. . And that's, that's the only step, my logical step that, that I had at the time. I just thought, Okay, cool. I tell him, Hey, Burning Man is the coolest party in the world. Mm-hmm. . And at the time of starting the camp, I, I didn't really understand the depth, uh, The psychological depth of, of Burning Men and what it does to people.
Um, so to me to tell em, Hey, I'm gonna take you to a party, it's so cool. It's in the desert. Uh, there's a bunch of sound camps in art cars. You can jump and dance your way around and interact with people and it's really fun. I'm gonna take care of everything for you. Just give me three grand mm-hmm. and I'll handle it [00:32:00] for you.
Now, fast forward 10 years now, there is a whole cultural direction setting department called the CDs of Bernie Man. Mm-hmm. the CDs, course correction department that started at 20, uh, after the 2018 burn that wants to eliminate this exact thing that I was doing back in 2012, which is to create what's called concierge camping or convenience camping.
Mm-hmm. . But I
[00:32:25] CK: was part of the problem or a plugin place. Right. Or, or a plugin plays. Right.
[00:32:29] Lee: Yeah. They're called plugin plays. But I have a lot of thinking, a lot of thoughts about that, and let's hit that next. Sure. Uh, I don't like to call it plugin play. Okay. Uh, but convenience camping or concierge camping where you prevent people, where you eliminate their tasks in order to make burning men easier for them and therefore they come.
Yep. That's exactly what I was aiming to do. Mm-hmm. , because to me that was the means to an end, to create that field of dreams. Because if I had enough money, I can buy the [00:33:00] trucks and the equipment that I need to create the structure. Mm-hmm. . Um, another fly in my design was that I always, I was so structure centered and I didn't realize that the byproduct of getting people to help you build such a structure creates a community.
Mm-hmm. , uh, Larry Harvey started, Birdman has a quote, had a quote, uh, he passed away a few years ago. Um, and he said, in, I'm paraphrasing, community comes from shared struggle. And going to Burning Man is a serious struggle. Mm-hmm. existing at Burning Man is a struggle. It's a very harsh environment, and if you've been there this year, you experience how harsh it could be.
It was one of the worst ones. Mm-hmm. . Um, and no matter what you try to do as a group, you will, you will bond with those people. And I fail to realize how strong that bond will be and how much it will matter more so than the structure itself. Mm-hmm. , uh, but at first I was just aiming for the structure and I got their money.
And it was a [00:34:00] disaster because I brought 16 people who didn't care for Burning Man, who didn't care to do the reading, who didn't care about the first Timers Guide or the Survival Guide, which Burning Man releases. And on year three, oh no, on day three, I think on Wednesday or so, I ran away from camp and I got adopted by another camp on Espanade, which is the innermost street at Burning Man.
For those who haven't been, and. I spent about three days with that camp just to clear my mind. Came back to my camp, uh, for a story about how one of my, like my dad was in my camp and I deserted my, my dad on his first burn, God. I said, Hey, come to this amazing thing, . And he helped me put it together. And on Wednesday I ditch him and I see him again on Saturday.
And he tells me a story about how his shoes disappeared because it turns out that another one of the 16 just woke up in the morning, couldn't find his shoes, and took my dad's shoes because they didn't have shoes. But, you know, there was this concept of the ply provides, so, oh my God, the ply didn't provide you stole my dad's shoes,[00:35:00]
Uh, oh my God. So I realized very quickly, I'm like, I can't just bring 16 people that can afford to pay. I need to bring 16 people who care. Yeah. And that's when the community aspect started. And I still fail to realize how important it was even then, Even, even after the first step. Um, so the following year I said, Hey, look, I'm looking for people who are willing to pay this much, but also who are willing to read the following, um, uh, links and, and and other pages that I eventually, I started chewing for them.
I said, Okay, I'm gonna read all the guides, make a shorter version of it and send it to the members that I wanna bring. That was also a mistake. Ah,
[00:35:46] CK: interesting.
[00:35:47] Lee: Yeah. Okay. . I went from a full mistake to half mistake, and I'm making progress, man. That's good. I made progress. But that year we had a guy who, who showed up at camp naked after four days [00:36:00] Uhhuh, and we're like, Where are your stuff?
And he's very happy, inebriated on something beyond alcohol. And he says, I decided to give away all my possessions, Uhhuh. And I'm like, What do you mean all your possessions? Where's the bike that I brought to Bernie Man, Uhhuh that you were riding. Was like, Oh, it's gone. I'm like, Okay. So you decided to give away all my possessions, , it just, and it was, again, it's like I made a step toward the right, in the right direction, but I, I still, I'm like, You know what?
I'm still helping filter out, or I'm not filtering enough people out. That shouldn't be a burning man. Uhhuh, but at the same time, who needs burning men more? Somebody who is fully capitalistic, or somebody who is already a burner at heart. Mm. And I realized that I should bring both those people after, after the second year, I realize, Okay, I, what I need to do is being a whole lot of people who understand burning men or understand what the, what the goal of this is, and are willing to do the latest work [00:37:00] themselves, but at the same time, let me still, and then now on purpose, bring one or two of those people who have no idea what Bernie men is.
But I believe that if I can affect them and show them this new language, they can then trickle down. Mm. Um, that very quickly led me to seek on purpose corporation owners. Mm. Because I figured, okay, if I take somebody who's fully capitalistic, all they think about is stocks and profit, and I can put 'em in this environment where money is useless.
Mm. How will that reshape their corporation? If they have 500 employees now, they will trigger down their new thought process. And instead of bringing 500 people to Burning Man, I just need to bring one mm-hmm. and, and create that huge effect. And, you know, going back, bring some of my luck to others. Um, and from that year forward, I, I've been in doing exactly that, bringing on purpose people who you would look at at first and think, Well, they don't belong in Bernie man.[00:38:00]
And my response these days is, that's exactly why I'm bringing them. Mm-hmm. Um, but mostly the, the majority of the camp, which is now 150 people, Is people who should be there and who do contribute. Mm. Uh, in year 3, 4, 5, you know, that we, we started getting more and more, um, toward that goal, uh, infrastructure wise.
After my second year, I accumulate enough money where I brought a box truck, a 24
[00:38:27] CK: 4. Before you go into the logistics, I wanted to double click on what you said. Bring some of my luck to others, especially those who are purely capitalistic, who don't belong. Who, who don't belong, who apparently don't belong.
So it's, this has been a very intentional process since the very beginning, Right? Year two, you, year two, three, you had this realization. You started bringing people who are purely capitalistic. You wanted to essentially have a trickle down effect. What I'm hearing is, [00:39:00] you know, have them being a, in a, in an environment where profits and stocks and money don't really matter.
So what have you observed One. . And two, given that this was your intention of building this camp, what have you found to be useful? Like, is it purely diffusive? Like, Hey, drop you into this environment. Let's see what happens? Or do you gently nudge, or you, you know, a very heavy handed, given a lecture about, you know, uh, decom modification and so on and so on.
Like, what have you found to be the most us, uh, useful, valuable to transform, uh, worldviews.
[00:39:45] Lee: I, I wouldn't give myself that much credit. Uh, and I don't, The ply is so powerful that if I were just to drop you in the middle of it for a week, I, I don't need to give you any [00:40:00] information and it will change you.
Mm. Um, and it will break you down with discomfort and heat and dust, and it will rebuild you with love and gifting and it, and just sharing that struggle with other people around you. I don't, I don't feel like I have to do much. Um, by now I know that I can affect the situation. But thinking about me back in 2015, now that we're talking about it, I didn't feel, I didn't feel like I needed to do much at all.
I just realized this place is so powerful, I just need to bring them here. And yes, I need to tell 'em, here's a 10 principles. This is what you will have to abide by. But beyond that, I just, it's kind of like a, a powerful pill. Like the red pill, blue pill here is a pill. Take it and see what happens. Uhhuh, , uh, and I found that there is one of two options.
They either take the pill and freak the hell [00:41:00] out, Uhhuh and run away Uhhuh . or it transforms their life. I found very little in between. Mm. Um, very few times somebody took the pill and said, Oh yeah, this is kind of cool. I'm gonna come next year again. And they come one more year and then they never come again.
That, that's a, that's quite the rare occurrence. Most of the time it's, Oh my God, what am I doing here? This is horrendous amount. And they catch an bus or flight or ride out of, of town after 24 hours. Mm-hmm. . Um, and the other ones they find themselves on ply. I lost in a dust storm and it reshapes their, their personality from the ground up and they send me an email after their burn saying, Thank you so much for everything you did.
And I love reading those letters, but again, I don't deserve the credit. I'm just a lucky guy who was able to bring another lucky guy or a lucky person. Not always guys. Um, and. And they were lucky enough to transform into something better, [00:42:00] but, but Burning Man is the real force here. I'm just, I'm just a lucky connection.
[00:42:08] CK: so I love that perspective that we are lucky to be talking right now in spite of technical difficulties. Might you , uh, however, you are also a thinking organizer, so you help, There is the macro transformational container that is burning Man, and there's also. Mezzo, Right. Transformational container that is camp epic.
So, so, uh, you know, I think that, I think there's, there's a lot, and that's the reason why I want to talk to camp organizers because yes, Bernie man is amazing. Yes. People that go there, uh, inevitably have some kind of transformational experience, some big experience. However, also within the big container, there's the meso container that is, uh, the, the theme camps,
[00:42:58] Lee: you know, uh, I see [00:43:00] what you're saying and I'm answering the perspective from me.
In 2015, me now realizes that Bernie Man is camps. Mm-hmm. . Um, there's three types of camps, art, car camps, art support camps, and theme camps. Uh, there should be a fourth, in my opinion, that's called a hybrid camp, but that doesn't exist yet. So let's concentrate on the three that exists.
[00:43:20] CK: Um, but art, car, and then arts, what did you call it?
[00:43:24] Lee: camp when you applied to be a theme camp at. For Burning Man, you have to choose one of three options. Art support camp, art car support camp, or a theme camp. Mm-hmm. , uh, square one, which was formerly Epic. Formerly Epic is, uh, a theme camp officially, although we do all three. And that's why I said there needs to be a hybrid version and that's for more for technical reasons, because a DGS is assigned to you from the department that you apply for.
Mm. So if you apply to be an art support camp, the artery supplies you with your direct group [00:44:00] sale tickets. If you are theme camp, then it's the placement team, art carts, the DMV team, the Department of Newton vehicles, and there is no version of you getting DGS from two departments. If you do two things, you have to pick one.
Oh, I see. Uh, that actually makes our job a lot tougher because we have so many people assigned to the art car and the art support car, which this year was a moving art piece of 70 feet long with a car and a trailer. 40,000 wat sound system. And it just, every time you move that thing, it's about a team of 15 people that take it, that operate it for that night.
And we don't get any help in terms of ticket allocation to get that so mm-hmm. , Um, but, but that's technical. So Burning Man is, is those three camps? The only other, the only exception to this rule is D P W, Department of Public Works, and that camp is the camp that runs Burning Man, um, run by the org itself, which now I'm [00:45:00] guesstimating, I think still does.
Last I checked was years ago, has around 300 full-time employees. But they run the camp aside from Birdman itself, or they, they govern the rules of the camp, which has thousands of volunteers. And those volunteers reside with other camps. So those are the only four types, The three main one and the exception, which is d p W.
They build the city grid and make all the contracts with everything else, with all the vendors and operate the, the grand sense of of the Burning Man event. Um, and that is Burning Man. Those 2000 and something camps that are one of those three, the collection of the experiences that those camps provide are Burning Man.
So at this point, if you ask me, yes, I'm a cell, I'm one of 2000 ish cells that is Burning Man. And in our guide that I sell to people, that I sent to people now in our camp is we follow and shape the Burning Man principles. [00:46:00] That's one of the sentence in the guide. Mm. We don't just abide by the 10 principles.
Cuz if my camp big got big enough, let's say my camp instead of 150 was 40,000 people. , which will never happen. But you realize that your camp is somewhat of a, has a voting power, right? Mm-hmm. Cause if 40, if half of Burning Man decided we need another principle, then it would happen. And it's just a running experiment.
So when you take 150 people to Burning Man, when you divide it, uh, 80,000 by 150, you realize that one out of every 500 people at the burn is in my camp. Mm-hmm. . So I'm one five hundredths of the power of Burning Man. Mm-hmm. . And that's a lot of responsibility. And I do shape it. So now when I bring people into Burning Man, of course I view myself as part of Burning Man, and it's my responsibility to not only just show him, Here you go, this is the plan and turn loose.
It's also to make sure that they're a participant that does the responsibility that one 500 s of the burn needs to needs to [00:47:00] perform. Otherwise Burning Men dissolves and becomes nothing. Mm-hmm. , um, Or is forced to become Coachella, where you have a producer and a visitor. But at Bernie man, there is no producer.
We are the camps are the producers. Yep. Um, which hits me back on, on, uh, when I said concierge camping, you said plug and play, and I wanna visit that for a second. Sure. Every camp at Bernie man, in my opinion, is a plug and play camp by definition. Mm. You just have a range of how pluggy
[00:47:30] CK: you are. How pluggy, that's word I've never heard before.
I like that. This might
[00:47:33] Lee: piss off some people. I'm sure I'm stepping on some toes, but every camp creates an atmosphere that eliminates some of the responsibilities that the campers need to perform. At the very least, it's placement. If I go to Burning Man on, uh, on my own. I get to the gate, they say, Okay, welcome to Birdman.
And then I drive in and where do I park? I have [00:48:00] no idea where he parks. I have to drive around the city, find a spot that is clear and set up my own spot. Once you become part of a place camp, you can plug into that camp because that camp shows up before the gate open a section of that camp. They create, you know, some sort of imaginary or physical fence.
Mm-hmm. that's marked by blue flags, by dpw. But once you get there, you can define your space however you want. Mm-hmm. . And as a participant in that camp, you show up knowing that you have a reserved spot. You don't have to look at it or look for it and secure it. So that's the first plug, right? My first plug is that, now let's say our club has a communal kitchen.
In a communal shower. Now those two other things that I don't have to participate in, or maybe I do bring a bucket of water to the shower, but now I'm, I'm only partial in the construction of that thing, so I'm no longer self reliant. I'm reliant on my other teammates. Yeah. And with each one of these amenities, I become more and more and more pluggy.
Mm-hmm. . And you have to find the [00:49:00] line of, Okay, at what point does, do I have too many plugs where I become the official plug-in play. Mm-hmm. , and I did a lot of thinking about that as, as camp was growing because, and I'll give you real quickly, we were four people then my first year of camp, it was 16, then 25, then 60, then 1 25, then one 50.
We grew real fast and I grew faster than I can accommodate and think about all these things. And I was forced, once we reached 125 ish, I was like, What, what am I doing here? Mm-hmm. like, I grew so fast. What's the point? Yes, I'm gonna build this amazing space, but at what cost? Mm-hmm. , uh, every time I provide an amen.
which is why we grew so fast, right? Because I built a comfortable camp. After year two, I bought a truck. The next year I bought another truck, then I bought a 53 foot trailer, then I bought another one, then I bought, uh, shipping containers, whatever. And at this point, I bring so much supplies to Bernie man.
Mm-hmm. that make it [00:50:00] really comfortable for my campers to camp. Mm-hmm. and I started writing and at, at some year, I forgot, which I wrote in, in the camp guide. I said, This camp is comfortable not for your sake of being comfortable. It makes your stay comfortable so you can then gift more. Because if you come to Burning Man and you have to do nothing, right?
Let's, let's go for the full plugin play experience. Uh, you get housing, you get water, you get food, you get your costumes, you get your dust mask, whatever. You just show up naked, Right? Catch your ride, fly in, do whatever. . Yep. Uhhuh. Um, at what point is that acceptable and is there a point where that acceptable?
But what if I told you that the person who's getting all those amenities contributed a hundred grand towards some art piece that is being built on ply that everybody in Burning Man is getting to experience? I'm not saying the answer is yes, I'm just posing the question. Sure. Do you think that's justifiable?
That if somebody pays a hundred grand toward an art piece that [00:51:00] everybody burning Man enjoys that they don't have to take care of themselves. Now, what if it's a million? Now that's one question. What if it's non monetary? What if I supply everything for that person? So now that person can go out and spend seven days Presly building that art piece themselves.
Not only did they pay a hundred thousand to do it, but they brought all their tools in their work crew and whatever, but now they don't have to worry about cooking, about where they're gonna sleep and all the other stuff. They could just concentrate on building this art piece. Is it now Justifi? Now it's very easy to think about this in terms of money and rich people, but let's take it a step back.
What if I'm a camp who has a bunch of poor people or non lucky people in a financial sense where I supply tents for everybody in my camp? Or there's something called Shift Pods or Ys at Burning Man where there a step up from a tent and there are camps like this, right, where they supply all their housing for their camps.
They, they just bring a container to Burning Man and everybody [00:52:00] gets their shift bud. And everybody in that camp only pays like $200 and they have a measly shower and very simple meals, but they don't actually have any art piece that they can contribute or any art car. And their gift to the playa is making cheese toast.
You know, for two hours a day, you go to their camp and you get cheese toast. How is that more justified than a camp who has a 10 million budget and creates amazing art pieces and all their people are staying in air conditioned RVs? So which one of those plug-in plays is justified if either mm-hmm. . But the way that people in Burning Man, when this problem started making itself apparent and convenience camping became a thing, people looked at, Oh, look at that camp full of 20 air conditioned RVs.
Uh, those people are way too comfortable. That's not okay. They're a plug and play, but nobody looks at a camp full of tents and says, That's a plug and play, just because they're tense. But you have no idea if those tents are provided by the camp. Mm-hmm. , [00:53:00] it's completely possible to have a camp full of tent, which is a full plug and play.
But, and that's why I'm very careful with using the word plug and play, because we all have a different scope of how many plugs we offer. And the question that I asked to myself at some point was, How can I justify those plugs? Mm. And in our camp, the way I solved it was, every time I offer a plug, it has to increase.
And this goes back to the N Mandela quote, It. It has to increase, um, or benefit the experience of all other campers or have the potential to, aside from people in my camp, so if I was to bring a housing unit to somebody at Bernie Man, and this is exactly how it started. Okay, let me pause right there. Um, well, let me finish the sentence.
If I was to increase the experience of somebody Burning Man, how can that be justified By making other people's experience in Burning Man better? Mm-hmm. . So if I give [00:54:00] you an ac, can they also get some benefit from that AC and I found a very easy way of doing that, uh, being the efficiency freak and the, you know, The logical statistical thinker.
By year four, I looked at the cost breakdown of our camp, and I saw that because I was offering a bunch of amenities because I was bringing trailers and trucks full of equipment, my members didn't have to bring such mm-hmm. So many things. Mm-hmm. , and that attracted a very certain type of camper. Mm-hmm.
the international camper, because they have a much harder time bringing a bicycle into Bernie man. So if I bring a truck with 50 bikes, now I can get 50 campers who don't have access to a bike. If I, I live in California, it's very easy for me to bring a bike to Bernie man. But as a foreigner who comes from Germany, my only options are to either to rent a bike or buy one in Walmart, and then I have to fly back to Germany.
What do I do with that bike? Mm-hmm. . So when I see a camp like [00:55:00] mine, , it's very attractive to those international people. And we add a camp full of international people. Another part that comes with international people is that they can't drive their own RVs or have their own tens to bring. Because again, how to, for you to bring everything you need to for a burning man survival from another country is a, is a monumental task.
Mm-hmm. and I made it comfortable for foreigners to come to Bernie Man. And by design, I made it comfortable for wealthy foreigners to come to Bernie Man because I was trying to accumulate, um, the infrastructure to create this field of dreams. And in 2015, our collective RV rental cost for camp, and we were I think a hundred, that's the year where we were 1 25, I think was a quarter million dollars.
Mm. And that was to, to me, that's astronomical. Um, [00:56:00] I'm not a super wealthy person myself, of course, that's all relative to who you compare yourself to. But, um, I'm doing better than I was in 2015. But back then, especially, I was thinking like I would never rent a $10,000 rv, but I was surrounded by people who could.
And I thought to myself, What benefit is Burning Man getting from this? Like, they rent a $10,000 rv, some vendor delivers it to Pia, that money's gone forever and nobody, Bernie Man benefits from this and their burn was now easier for for what purpose. Mm-hmm. . So I, I thought to myself, let's turn camp, um, it into a funding system where, where what we do will affect the others.
And I, I came up to 16 people in my camp and the reason why 16, cuz I looked at a 53 foot trailer, mapped it out, drew it out and said, How many beds can I put in a. In a semi-trailer to turn it into a sleeping unit, install a season there and turn it [00:57:00] into something comfortable enough where somebody who sleeps in an RV would be okay to transfer into that, I managed to plot 16 beds in there and I did what, um, Steve Jobs did, according to some movie that I saw once about how he started Microsoft, where he realize Xerox has an operating system.
And he went to, I forgot, was it Intel or some other company, and I might be butchering the story completely, but he sold the program before he ever had it. And I decided to do the same thing. I went to 60 people, said, Hey look, I have this semi-trailer that I converted into a sleeping unit. Would you sleep in it?
Pay half as much as you do for an rv, um, and you'll have mostly the same amenities. Would you agree to doing that? And they said, And then I said, Okay, here's how much it's gonna be. They all gave me the money and then I had to race for about, uh, two months. I lived in Santa Rosa with another camp member and just had to build this thing.
We [00:58:00] created a, uh, the first 16 sleeper trailer that we have at camp at this point. We have about 120 people sleeping containers. But wait,
[00:58:09] CK: how many? How many? How many? 120. 120. Amazing.
[00:58:13] Lee: So year one, version one, I moved 16 people into this trailer and it kind of worked. It was semi disaster cuz I also decided to build a bathroom with the same year that recycled the water for the showers into toilet water.
Uhhuh disaster. Cuz I didn't take into account how much people wouldn't care. Uhhuh that system required a lot of care. And that's something I also eliminated from my systems at Bernie Mine Uhhuh. Uh, but that's a whole other topic, but I moved 16 people into that cube and that allowed me to have enough money to build the following year.
Another one of those. and I realized then this is what's gonna solve me from, from from the money program, cuz the field that I want to build, that field of dreams is very expensive. Mm-hmm. , much like sacred spaces, it's gonna [00:59:00] cost me hundreds of thousands and I can't raise that money from people who already pay $10,000 to rent an rv.
If I can reduce 'em to five grand and take two and a half out of it, now I have this power to build my dream. And so the following year I Wait, wait, wait,
[00:59:19] CK: wait. Before you move on, Before you move on. So you reduce the cost. So instead of having an air conditioned rv, $10,000, you know, per person, you have the price, you put them in containers, but the, the matrix that you have, you wanted to provide amenities so that your participants can give back to people outside of your camp.
Okay. To the overall burnman. So how are you measuring that? Oh,
[00:59:48] Lee: so that wasn't measurable that year because I reinvested everything to grow the system. I knew that the system will do that eventually. Mm-hmm. and that eventually has already come. So we're gonna get to that next. But back then, [01:00:00] I reduced the cost by a quarter, but still charge him half.
Mm-hmm. . And that extra quarter was what I cycled back into the system to build more and more and more of these and create, uh, basically an interactive and gifting platform. And this year, I'm gonna give you a tidbit. Uh, in 2022, we supported to apply art projects. And an art car. Um, and oh, actually three art projects at, at Bernie Man.
Um, just by virtue of having these containers. I see. Because whereas a lot of camps fundraise in order to create things at Bernie. Man, the goal back at 2015 when this idea was formed was to, to make sure that just by the platform's existence, it raises money. Mm-hmm. . Um, so the following year, and I real, after that experiment, I realized this is gonna be too slow.
Right. I'm already a [01:01:00] 2015 or 2011. I thought I'm gonna do something amazing. And now I find myself dealing with housing, which I couldn't care less for. Uhhuh . Uh, but still it's a necessary step to get to that field. And so I'm like, Okay, I'm just gonna go full force into this housing system. And the following year, I, I loaned a whole lot of money.
I borrowed a lot of money against my own. Promise to pay it back. So I put myself in, in a, in a very risky position. Mm-hmm. , but I knew I didn't wanna wait 20 years to give back to Bernie man. Mm. So the following year, we built, uh, we modified eight shipping containers and brought into Bernie man, uh, 40 footers.
The reason we went that route is because, uh, a vendor that I use at 2019 or 2015 came to my camp and said, Oh, why are you, This is a pretty cool idea, but why are you using trailers? You should use shipping containers because they have less moving parts. Mm-hmm. , and they don't need to be registered with a real world DMV and have insurance and all that stuff.
And I'm like, Okay, you know what? Yeah, let's try [01:02:00] that. So the following year, a shipping containers mm-hmm. and it, it was a very rough transition. Like, because every solution is a new problem. Yep. Or creates new problems. And I find myself full of problems, but I overcame those. And the following year we built two more, and then two more, and then two more.
And, uh, for 2023. One more. 2022. One more. And now I think I'm at capacity.
[01:02:27] CK: Why do you say that Container? I do you say that? Why do you
[01:02:29] Lee: say that? I say that because the cultural direction setting, which started Burning Man, also got involved with the OSS program, which is outside services. Uh, GATE at Burning Man, 12 miles after the main entrance, there was a separate entrance only for vendors who pay in srp.
Um, there's so many TRLs at Burning Man. All these,
[01:02:55] CK: all these acronyms.
[01:02:56] Lee: Yeah. Three letter acronyms. TRLs, there's so many. [01:03:00] Even the acronym has an acronym. Uh, but somebody, uh, informed me last week that an acronym actually is not a spelled out word, Uhhuh. It needs to be spoken. So, for example, Mad Mothers Against Drug Driving, that's an acronym, but if I say M A A D, it's no longer an acronym.
Uh, okay. So I forgot what the name for it is, but OSS technically is not an acronym. So OSS is only given to vendors who play in S R P A special recreation permit. Okay. That is given by the blm, which is Bureau of Blend Management, uhhuh. Okay. So just to make a funny sentence, the BLM gives you an S rrp, so you can use the OSS gate as a vendor.
All my containers entered through the OSS gate. Mm-hmm. , But the OSS gate shut off its allowance, uh, at the 2019 burn. They said we no longer allow vendors to apply for more permits than they applied the previous years because the OSS is now used by vendors to deliver [01:04:00] housing units and housing units go against the Bernie Man ethos of radical surf reliance, which we already covered gets eliminated the more your camp does because you're more and more pluggy.
But regardless, Housing units cannot be delivered through os. Well, at first, 2019 was no more, uh, no more permanent allocation. So any vendor who had, uh, let's say I got 20 deliveries last year. I cannot apply for 25 now. I can only get 20. They paused a growth. They said it's too much of a problem. Too much is coming through oss.
Then at 2022, and I'm not sure if this was gonna happen earlier, if it wasn't for covid, they said No more housing units delivered through OSS who have plumbing fixtures, uhhuh. So even if you had 20 deliveries in 2019, if those deliveries were RVs with plumbing, you're no longer allowed. Uhhuh. I don't know if they made that plumbing rule because of living containers like the ones I use, [01:05:00] uhhuh, , I don't know.
And part of me believes that they did because the containers that we did, and this is where, where AIM was to begin with to say, if we are gonna deliver housing, where does it help? Beman as a whole, By 2019 was already being used, or by 2022 as, as well was already being used for Fly Ranch, which is a property owned by the Bernie man org, where they, uh, there's a bunch of initiatives to develop that property.
It's where the water guys are. Have you heard of Fly Ranch? Yep. Okay. There is, for the listeners who have it, there is a natural spring, well, semi-natural spring. There was a pressurized hot water underneath the property and somebody tapped it many years ago and left the pipe open. So at this point, it looks like a natural spring, but it isn't.
There is a pipe that goes down there and, uh, it keeps sping water. It's very hot water. It's really nice, clear. It's nice to swim in, not on a very hot day. Uh, but that water is used [01:06:00] actually to water the streets at burning wind. When you see the trucks driving around watering, they're bringing water from the geyser.
Oh. Um, which is clean water, Not necessarily potable. But a bunch of it comes from there. I don't know if all of it, but I know that some quantity of it does. Birdman is trying to develop that property, but for now they have a bunch of temporary housing and we give our containers to fly ranch so they can have housing year round.
And we also give our, uh, kitchen container because aside from housing, we also decided to eliminate anything that you do over and over again. To me, it was a waste to build the kitchen. Every time I go to Burning Man, it's like, why build the kitchen when we only use it for a week if I could just burn kitchen once and bring it to Burning Man each time?
So now we have container that is the kitchen container that we keep tweaking each year and we can modify it on ply. We, we devote like 10 hours of modifying an play and then every year it improves itself rather than starting from zero. Yep. Uh, that's a very [01:07:00] privileged way. So I'm not preaching that all camps should do this.
Right. I created a program that surrounded. Itself with a bunch of wealthy people that enabled me to create this container. So I'm not saying, Hey, camps, look at me. Do it my way. But for the camps who do have the means to do it, if you do, do it, justify it. And the way that we justify it is we now give that kitchen container to other purposes.
Uh, when there was a fires in Santa Rosa, I think around 2017 or 18 major fires in California, we shipped a bunch of our shipping containers, housing, and the kitchen to Santa Rosa to create a village for the homeless people to live in. That ended up being a disaster, uh, the city. Oh, really? Prove it with the ultimate reasoning that our containers didn't have windows.
The reason our containers didn't have windows is because, um, they were designed for burning men. And a burning man, it's advantageous to not have a window. Mm-hmm. . But the reasoning for the Santa Rosa, um, govern government body [01:08:00] was that it doesn't have a fire escape. And. Our response to them was, But people are sleeping in their cars and we're offering free housing.
It's already built. We built the whole thing. It was a huge mistake that we didn't ask permission before doing it, but we built a whole village, Let 'em move in, let 'em live it for free until they figure out their next situation. They said, No, it doesn't have windows. And we said, But sleeping in their cars.
And their response word for word was, But cars have windows. Uhhuh . And that was, it was mind boggling for me. I was like, I was wishing, now I'm on a tangent, but I wished that the, the, that the governing body would just sleep in their cars one night and then reevaluate that decision, you know? Mm-hmm. . But anyway, that was a disaster.
But it, back to the conversation hand, you have to justify your luck if you're gonna use it, uh, for Bernie man's sake. Um, so we, we give our containers to, to Flymen, and now I'm trying to work with, uh, there's a 360 property that Bernie man bought. It's 360 acres right next to Garlock, which is the [01:09:00] closest town to Playa.
They're looking for temporary housing as well. So I'm in the works of trying to reach the department that manages that to offer them just access to our, our housing containers as well. So OSS eliminated all housing that doesn't have plumbing. Mm-hmm. , um, for that reason. But at the same time, the reason why I'm saying I'm done, and I'm apologize for all my answers being so long, is because oss it feels like already did an exception just for myself in a few other camps like me.
Um, and I don't want to, um, abuse that favor. Mm-hmm. , I'm like, Okay, you, you guys are, are stopping stopping at, at, at the tracks. This whole idea of, of supply housing that Burning Man. Now, the whole reason I did this to begin with was in order to improve Burning Man. Mm-hmm. and I even soughted approval from those departments.
[01:10:00] I called the manager of OSS back in 20, uh, pre 2019 and told her about this plan. I emailed them as well and I, I emailed, uh, bernie man org itself and back in 2014 before we ever built our first container, I eventually reached, um, Maryanne, the current CEO of Bernie Man. And I told her, This is my plan.
Here's what I wanna do. And now I find myself in a position where the whole Bergman organization is turning against the idea of supplying housing. And I get where they're coming from because almost all supplies housing at Burning Man is meant to be for profit. Whereas this program, and now very few like it exists in order to improve the gifting at Bernie Man.
So I'm gonna work with what I have. I'm gonna pause the building system. I'm gonna stop building containers. Thank OSS for allowing me to do what I do for now, cuz maybe next year they won't. and [01:11:00] use all my container power to create not only the field of dreams, but also art projects for Bernie man as a whole and support the Bernie man or gear around.
[01:11:12] CK: So I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll say this. I'm an engineer by trade and by in, by training. And, uh, I think it's very smart to not to rebuild something over and over again, right. To tear down, to bring it back up. Um, and to constantly improve the efficiency of it. Uh, I like the idea, I see a butt coming. No, there's no, But I think, I think, I think, but, but, so, okay.
Maybe there is a but. Right. If I think about it from the orgs perspective, obviously I'm not part of the org, the ethos of Burning Man embrace around this concept of impermanence. So now you, there's a, a tension between efficiency and the [01:12:00] spirit of Burning Man, which is embrace inpermanence. Uh, obviously I don't have an answer, you know, in this moment.
Speaking. Okay, go ahead, .
[01:12:11] Lee: This goes back to radical self reliance. At what level do you apply it? Mm-hmm. . If you go to Birdman with your partner and your partner brought all your food and you were packing the car in the garage while they were making the meals, now you're not making your meals. So you're not really self-reliant.
Right. It's you and your partner. And then if you come with a camp, okay, now they took care of the meals, I took care of the rest. Mm-hmm. . Now with Burning Man's, the, the whole permanence of it, I, I can, I can go down the same rabbit hole, say, Okay, if, if Burning Man is now permanent, they're using the same fence every year.
They're using the same trailers to build the event each year. They have their offices for the ticketing at the entrance if they use every year all over again. So should the event itself recreate all those things each year? Or is some permanence to create a [01:13:00] non-permanent event justified?
[01:13:01] CK: Yep. I, I think, I think that's a debatable thing between you and the org.
I mean, I can, as an outsider, I, I don't have any skin in the game. Yeah. I like the idea. I, I naturally, as an engineer, I go to Great, let's make it available to everyone. Right. But then I can also see from the orgs perspective, like, well, if everyone does that, what would happen? So I don't have an answer.
Just something I think is very interesting to philosophical decision needs to be made. Um, I wish you Yeah.
[01:13:36] Lee: If everybody did it, it wouldn't work. Huh? If everybody did it, it wouldn't work. Right. So now you're shipping thousands of containers into Bernie man. Correct. Which, Is equally unsustainable. Correct.
Which, but you can create hubs. So another example is I built a, a water and electrical [01:14:00] infrastructure, which is brought in by these containers, and every year I accumulate more and more electrical and plumbing infrastructure to now supply power and water services to camps around us. We wouldn't be able to do it without these containers.
So you don't need everybody pretty meant to do it, but if a few people did it or a few camps did it, now you create a situation where less fortunate camps can, for a lack of a better word, leach on and do what they do better. Because my camp exists. and I try to look for these justifications everywhere I can.
Um, we also started a storage program. So some camps have huge gift, Right. And they have to store their equipment in Garlock or in Reno, and they have to pay for that storage. That's right. Our camp offers free storage program to any camps, interactivity, infrastructure. Mm. So I don't know how many camps know about it.
I posted on the Bernie Man page and a few camps applied, but for no cost. You bring your equipment [01:15:00] to us, we put it inside the containers in the following year, we're bring it back to apply it for you because I'm bringing these containers in and out anyway. Mm-hmm. , and it's funded by the people who sleep in them.
Mm-hmm. . So it's, it's those justifications that I constantly look for along the way to show Bernie, man, hey, look, yes, I'm supplying housing, but for the benefit of the following 20 things, it's not just to make people more comfortable, I'm to
[01:15:26] CK: create things. Yeah. I, I'm right there with you. I really think that's a really smart idea.
Not only are creating some surplus for future programs and, and you use that surplus to support the artist, the art cars or whatever it is that, or, or the extra space storage that you can give to your neighbors as an example. I think that's very smart. Um, I like it. It's very creative. I wanted to go beyond this because not everyone is thinking about starting their own camp, [01:16:00] uh, or at the such a scale.
So, but one question that comes up a lot is governance, right? So some people, uh, has a certain personality, so there a benevolent dictator dictating, uh, what goes on in the camp. Uh, some camps are more democratic. Um, so how do you as a camp make decisions, you know, when, when it's challenging or when you know you're about to run a budget or whatever the thing, how do you make those decisions?
As a camp
[01:16:31] Lee: y you hit a problem here because by design, let's go back to, to square one, um, pun intended. There was the concept of I wanna create this art piece, which is the camp itself. Mm-hmm. , and ironically, we're not there yet. After 10 years, I still haven't achieved my field of dreams and I'm, I'm lost at what I'm gonna do once I do achieve it.
But right now it seems like it's about three years away. Um, but by [01:17:00] design, I wanted a camp where no one person will be able to tell me, because I'm funding it, I want to bring my assistant or my chef, or this is what camp has to do. Mm-hmm. and I got those requests many times. Mm-hmm. . But because now this whole thing is fragmented into 120 campers, there is no one.
Member who can affect it. And it became by design, what I call a benevolent oligarchy sometimes. Mm-hmm. or benevolent dictatorship. It's exactly that because I put myself in a position that I didn't want anybody else to be in. And even though it's working for now, I'm very fearful for what camp will be, let's say 10, 20 years when I'm not there, because I don't think that myself or anybody else should have the power that I have.
So I find myself, you, you ask it a very interesting point because a few years back I realized I shouldn't exist. Like, or the, the management system that is in my camp [01:18:00] and I'm trying to make myself obsolete. And at some point I'll get there and it will be a democratic system. Um, but aside from controlling the infrastructure to create the art piece, I try to make all other decisions that are not.
Structurally based, um, democratic, and it's a weighted democratic system. So it's not like I have 150 people and everybody gets a vote. Mm-hmm. , because it's a democracy. The way you become somebody important in our camp is by making yourself such, like nobody votes you into power. You just decide I'm gonna be really active in this department.
And at this point we have about 22 of them. Mm-hmm. . Um, and you make yourself indispensable. And once you become so knowledgeable in that department and everybody depends on you for something, you want something, your voting power matters a lot more. Mm-hmm. . And I also find myself that within a system that's only 150 large, it's not [01:19:00] that difficult to give those people power because the ones who gain power are the ones who come to the meetings.
So if I'm saying we're gonna have a decision made next week, come to the Zoom meeting. Generally the 30 or 40 people who contribute the most are the ones who are gonna show up. And they naturally get their voices heard and the vote's counted, and the rest of the camp isn't there. So their opinion matters less.
Mm-hmm. , uh, just by virtue of their choice of not being there for, for less important decisions. We do have questionnaires where we say, Everybody please give your preference. And then we bring it to that meeting and we have a vote on it. So we do take everybody's opinion into account, but not everybody's vote into account.
Um, I understand. And for, for our size, it works. And of course, as you grow, it becomes more and more complicated.
[01:19:53] CK: Yeah. Have you heard about the Dunbar's number? Whereas at about 150, uh, it stops [01:20:00] being an effective village, so to speak, where communication breaks down and, and it's very challenging to know what's goes on in an organization once it goes beyond 150.
[01:20:10] Lee: That was part of the reason we paused at 150 Uhhuh . Um, , it was part of the considerations was that theory, which shows some, some practice proof, but we grew so fast and we decided, you know what? What we're growing for the sake of what if I could be a thousand people, What can I do? It's gonna be, it's gonna take over my life.
I already have three kids. I consider Burning Man somewhat of my fourth uhhuh. Like, how much time can I devote to this thing and neglect everything else in my life for what purpose? So yeah, we realize to create the field, how many people do I need? How much money do I need each year? How big does the system need to be?
And we came with about 150 people and 20 containers that that was the final result. And we're like, Okay, it also works with the Dunbar [01:21:00] number, so let's just keep it at that. And this year we were actually 164. Okay. Which bugged me, we grew bigger. There's always some exceptions, but I aimed for one 50. It ended up being 1 64.
So next year I decided I'll aim for one 40. And let my exceptions get me to one 50.
[01:21:19] CK: How do you measure how, quote, unquote successful, you know, each year, each camp experiences? What do you look for as the, the benevolent oli Gar, you know, looking at, uh, each year's the progress,
[01:21:36] Lee: the same way I measure myself.
Mm-hmm. if I measure myself worth by which people measure themselves against me.
[01:21:47] CK: Wait, wait, wait. One more time though. Was kind of a, Yeah. Very meta. Say that one more time. Somebody asked
[01:21:52] Lee: me once, How do you, how do you measure yourself? Like, how do you know if you're a good person or if you're living correctly or mm-hmm.
mm-hmm. or whatnot. And I [01:22:00] found this, this is not my quote, so I'm paraphrasing, but I adopted it and I don't know where I got it. But, um, I measure myself based on who measured themselves against me. . I see. So if I, if there's, uh, five other camps that I admire and they come up to me after the burn and say, Oh, wow, I really liked your camp.
How do you do this? Whatever, let's talk mm-hmm. , then I know I did something, right? Mm-hmm. . Uh, but if I'm running a camp and no members come and say, Oh, like no visitors send messages or other camps say, Oh, this was so great. You're doing awesome. Whatever. Then I know I failed because nobody wants to be more like me.
Mm. But emulation is the best compliment. And if more camps want to be like my camp, then I know I'm doing it right. Mm. Um, now, I, I say more actually, but if it's more of the right camp, if the camps that I admire want to be more like my camp mm-hmm. than it means we're doing it correctly. And that's what I, I keep the lookout for each year.[01:23:00]
Mm. Um, I don't aim to lead as much. I aim to be followed. Mm-hmm. understand, if that makes any sense. I understand. Um, And that's the reaffirmation that I'm going in the right direction. But if nobody comes and asks, Oh, how did you do this? How can you do that? Can we, I'm so interested to know how you did this, this, and this.
Then I'm knowing, I'm like, Okay, so I should try something else. Cause if nobody cares to be more like it, then why do I, you know, why should I am in a direction then nobody else wants to go in
[01:23:32] CK: when I ask you a que thank you for sharing that, by the way. That's a really interesting perspective. Um, so the fact that Jonathan said, Hey, go talk to Lee from camp Epic, that's in vote, right? Would you say?
[01:23:45] Lee: Yes. Ex, That's, that's a affirmation that I'm doing something right? Yes. Yeah. I really leave admire Camp Mystic.
[01:23:52] CK: Tic is awesome. So some, What are some of the lessons that you've learned the last 10 years that you would tell new camp [01:24:00] organizers, the younger Lee, you know, back in 2011 who's inspired, who you know wants to birth this, this baby to the Playa? What would you say to that person? And
[01:24:14] Lee: I would go back to the Larry Harvey quote of community comes from shared struggle. So whether you aim to build a community or not, it will form and you have to take it into account. Uh, and that's where I find myself now, after 10 years, I didn't take it into account and I only concentrated on the infrastructure, this mechanical infrastructure that will improve Burning Man from an efficient financial perspective.
And I failed to realize that people in my camp are gonna meet each other and get married. Um, And form super deep connections where if one of them has a bad burden, the other one has a bad burden because of it. It's not all the infrastructure and the infrastructure affect the people, but the people also affect the [01:25:00] infrastructure.
And you really have to take into account how this struggle is gonna affect the people around you. And whoever you're gonna bring to Bernie man are gonna become your friends. And do you want to be friends with those people? Um, because you're gonna go through some hard times. So be very careful of who you bring to Bernie.
Man. I think that's the most important job from a TCR perspective. And it goes back to this dgs, uh, concept where they give you the tickets. You have a lot of responsibility to bring the right people to burning man. Um, and uh, you, you should give it a lot, a lot of thought. And the secondary part is be efficient because like the kitchen Yes, I.
I have the means to build a container, but you have the means to build a kitchen in whatever means you have. Make sure that if it doesn't have to be repeated, it won't. So, b, build upon [01:26:00] yourself. Don't just start from scratch each year unless your goal is that experiment. And Verde mine is an experiment, right?
So if your goal is to create something big in grandiose and awesome, it takes a lot of energy, eliminates the energy drag early on. But if your goal is to just camp with a few friends each year and go experience Birdman and do a very simple gift, there is no, there's no reason to take my second part of the advice, you know, in that case, just concentrate on the first one.
Make sure you go with the right people or the people that fit you or your mission. Um, but if you wanna create really large things, you have to, to think efficiently. Otherwise, it's gonna be very hard to get there.
[01:26:39] CK: Very tough. Cool question there actually, I'm double clicking on that. Was talking to Christopher.
wryulak of play Alchemist? He went from an idea to 140 people in one shot, right? He thought about it for two years, but he went from zero to 110 [01:27:00] people in one shot. And then the advice that he got from a lot of seasoned burners, like, don't ever do that. Like , start small, don't go, you know, trying to build a pyramid from day one kind of a thing.
So, uh, knowing what you know today, what would you say to people who may have an ambition to build a large, you know, contribution our piece to camp? Should they iterate from small to medium to large, or should they just go like, Nah, it's okay. I'm gonna do a one shot.
[01:27:35] Lee: This is not Bernie Man. Specific at all. Uhhuh . Uh, if you wanted to start any business or any endeavor, As a human in a society, I would say starts small. Uh, however, if you have a lot of experience with large, with managing large groups and other settings, maybe for you [01:28:00] it's, it's easier to go large, but that sounds like a very rare skill.
Mm-hmm. and one that requires a whole lot luck. Mm-hmm. , because it's also possible to bring 140 and have an absolute disaster. Mm-hmm. , Um, I heard some other, uh, TCO right on the group a few days ago. He wrote, uh, I run a tight chip wreck, you know, . So you, Yeah. You could be running a tight shipwreck. That is funny, but usually the proper way is not to do what he did.
Uh, and that that's anywhere. So I'm very surprised that he managed to pull it off and he still came the following year. I thought mine was fast, that I grew to one 50 within five years. Um, but I, that's, that's, that's the first time I ever heard of it. I can't believe he did that. It's
[01:28:50] CK: amazing. Oh, well, it's amazing.
It was also very lucky. He did. He did. I mean, we went into super deep on exactly what happened. So I just give you a super short version of it. [01:29:00] So as you can imagine, there all these custom components to build a pyramid, right? So on Monday going to Garlock, he gets a call like, Hey, the shipping container is being detained at port on Monday.
So, so, so he had to figure out some really interesting, uh, bureaucracy stuff in order to get the shipping container components there on Wednesday. So he has between two Tuesday and Wednesday to Thursday to basically have everything and then build them thing for the first time .
[01:29:34] Lee: But he was a burner for years before that.
[01:29:38] CK: he was, That was his first burn. That was, No, that was his, I, I think he was only me burn for like two years or something. He got that idea and then two years later he decided to go forward and make it work. So it was incredible luck or ty or blessing, depending on whatever narrative that you, you hear, but is incredible , [01:30:00] how everything came together.
[01:30:02] Lee: It sounds very painful to go through what he had to go through.
[01:30:05] CK: Uh, yeah. Well, I mean, especially that day, that's a lot of stress. He gets that call on Monday, right. And
[01:30:11] Lee: like gets a lot of stress.
[01:30:14] CK: Um, Wow. So I wanted to, Do you have a little bit more time or can we go a little longer? Cool. Yeah. I cleared
[01:30:21] Lee: some time.
[01:30:22] CK: Awesome. Thank you. So, one question that I, I think about a lot is, especially thinking about transformation, Burning Man is a beautiful peak experience for for many. and, but for me it's not just, Hey, once a year I go to Burning Man, I've experienced this, uh, awe of living. But the rest of the year I go back to the default world being just a regular Joe.
So you have attempted to bring out, um, the innovation that you've created, the container outside of Burning Man, right? So what are some of the ways that you have either personally [01:31:00] or as a whole camp together, bring out Burning Man as a lifestyle outside of Burning Man?
[01:31:08] Lee: Uh, to me the biggest one is gifting.
Uh, it's the easiest one. So maybe that's why gravitated toward it. Uh, just from an efficiency perspective, gifting was the easiest. Um, so after my first burn, I started doing a lot more things like. Everywhere. Like I something. Here's an example. Uh, I took my son to Burning Man right when he was three. Our rule is you could take your kids to Burning Man.
Our kids once you can tell them, put your mask on, and they put their mask on, or they can see a storm and they understand that they need to, and they need to leave it on because at Burning Man, they could be 10 feet away and all of a sudden you don't see them. Mm. Um, so as soon as he could put a dust mask on, we took them and he, we asked him, [01:32:00] What kind of gift do you wanna create?
And he chose to do a lemonade stand. It was funny because that year we were also camped right across a black rock lemonade. We didn't even know that was gonna happen. But when you opened his tiny little stand, we made a sign come shop local. Um, and it was kind of interesting. So for him as well, we came back home after that burn, he's like, Okay, I wanna, I wanna do eliminate stand again.
But there's not enough people walking in the street. But he really, he had that. Realization of, it's so fun to give something away. So we invented this game. We said, uh, it's called Take one, Give one. We filled up a cart, uh, one of those Costco carts, uh, blue Costco carts with a bunch of things from the house that we didn't need.
Some of it was food, some of it was toys. And we just started walking down the street, knocking on doors and saying, Hi, We we're your neighbor. We came to offer you stuff. You can either take something or you can give something. And we discourage [01:33:00] people from bartering. It's like, so if you gave something, you can't take one away.
And if you give, if you take something away, that's it. And each neighbor had an option and we ended up walking multiple streets until we were not even neighboring with anybody. And it was fun. So fun playing that game of just. watching people catching the guard of like, What, what do you mean you just wanna gimme something for no reason?
And at that point, so many people gave stuff like, we had a sick six pack of cans of coke and sunglasses and things, and like so many utilitarian stuff that people might want. And it was interesting. And we just knock on the door. I'm like, Oh, you have a six pack of Coca-Cola? I'm like, Okay, I'll take it.
And they feel so weird doing it. And so that's an example of something that I did with my kid. Or when I go to parties now, um, I, I keep a, a sec on myself. Like I take a small littles, like the kind of sec that ski goggles coming, whatever, and I fill it with a bunch of things from my house that I don't eat.
I clip it onto my belt. And [01:34:00] when I interact with people, I just pull out the sec. I'm like, Hey, reach you and pick something. And it just creates an interesting interaction. And of course they immediately get the feeling of, Oh, what should I give in return? So I never accept anything in return. And, uh, that's on the, on the.
uh, on the, uh, on the materialistic front, that's how it changed my life. I do a lot more gifting. And then on the artistic part, I realize not to take myself so seriously, um, after a few burns. So, for example, like this was a conscious decision, like, why not put a unicorn behind me? Why not exactly. Like, and this bear, you know, So why not?
Why not do that? So, I, I, sometimes I go, I go outta my way now to buy light colored pants. So when a friend invites me to a birthday party, I wear white pants and I keep sharpies on a chain, uhhuh, and I meet new people. I tell him, Would you sign my pants? Uhhuh . So I have [01:35:00] multiple pants right now that are just full of signatures and drawings, because why not?
Why not just be artistic and just if I, if I have shoes, if I buy new shoes, I, I find myself shopping on my shoes because, Who said that you can't draw on your shoes? Like why not Uhhuh so often? I would say half the times that I buy shoes now. Um, and this is fairly recent, like in the last few years, cause I did this like early on after Beman, and then I realized, wait, why don't I do this more often?
So if I'm on a flight somewhere, I'll just take off my shoe, take a Sharpie, start like Uhhuh, fill up my, my plane ride with that. And by the time I land I have new shoes, the new looking shoes. And it's amazing how many compliments you get in your shoes. Oh wow, these are such cool shoes. Where'd you get 'em?
I'm like, I just on the way here, Uhhuh. Um, so I find myself being more artistic because, because of burning mine.
[01:35:54] CK: Wow. This is very cool. Actually there is, there's actually, I don't know if you know, [01:36:00] I don't know exactly. Uh, they are call like shoe heads or something like that there. They love sneaker shoes and there's a whole industry around people who can.
Artistically made their shoes even more customized and beautiful than the manufacturers, you know, give it to them so that
[01:36:19] Lee: a maybe, Yeah, I've seen it on Instagram and Etsy and that kind of stuff, but it's, it's really, it's not that hard. You just take a sharpie and draw whatever you want. It's so easy to modify shoe.
[01:36:30] CK: okay.
[01:36:32] Lee: think you thinking, Oh, I don't know how to paint. I'm like, But it's as simple as just taking a sharpie, just drawing lines. And once you fill up the space, you like go to the next space and draw circles, and then you realize, oh wow, there's so much you can do with a shoe. Mm-hmm. . Um, that really, it takes zero effort.
And I do the same thing with the sharpened parties with my shoes. I say, Go ahead, write something on my shoe. And it's funny because sometimes I tell people, Oh, can you write something on [01:37:00] my pants? And they ask, Oh, can I do your shoe? And I tell 'em, no. The shoe is a coveted spot. You don't get it unless you're.
Like we known each other for a while. Mm. And this goes back to the gifting idea of like, a gift is what I offer to you. It's not what you ask for. Mm-hmm. So I will almost never give them what they ask for because it's no longer a gift. It's just they ask for, and then I can decide whether I want to give it to them or not.
But I gave you the gift of painting on my pants. You don't want it. Don't take it.
[01:37:25] CK: Uhhuh. So, so let me segue back to Burning Man. Um, on 2009, 2019, you were on a panel talking about infrastructure, right? During the symposium for, uh, on which one? Infrastructure. Infrastructure. During the, the, the Camp Organizer symposium.
You were, you were a panelist talking about infrastructure.
[01:37:49] Lee: It's possible. Yeah. I remember being a panelist and a few of them, and I always wanted to be on the infrastructure one, but never got to it. So maybe I spoke about infrastructure. Anyway. Yeah,
[01:37:57] CK: let's, let's go for that. You were, you were on the [01:38:00] infrastructure speed dating, uh, panel.
Okay. So anyways, I was curious now, since you're recognized as an infrastructure guy in within Burning Man, Oh, how are you taking that skillset that you have honed into your own life in creating more secret spaces?
[01:38:20] Lee: You, I think you, you're talking about the Blast Initiative burners leading sustainability, No achieving sustainability in theme camps.
And within the Blast Initiative there is multiple groups. Um, yeah, so one of them is the infrastructure. You're right. But that's more of a sustainability, um, initiative. Um, so I know which panel you're talking about, and
I. Man, I, I, I wish I had a good answer for you. Well, let
[01:38:48] CK: me, let me ask you, maybe rephrase my question a bit. You were first inspired by the Sacred Spaces Design. Yes. Right. So, and for years you've [01:39:00] been working on that. So as such, you have honed that skill of designing spaces for your camp. Yes. So, I'm curious with that new set of skill, superpower, whatever you call this, how are you taking that into your own spaces or the communal spaces that you,
[01:39:21] Lee: that you live?
Again, I wish I had a good answer for you, but as a father of three Uhhuh, uh, with a real job in LA and a busy lifestyle, I don't find myself affecting the spaces around me as much as I uhhuh as I would if I didn't have the reality that I live in. Mm-hmm. , uh, It's not necessarily a loss or a yearning that I don't, but now that you ask me for it, I realize I, I reserve much of my space design for the playa.
Mm. Um, cuz there's only so much time I can give. And if, if maybe if I had no kids, I would mm-hmm. , but I don't find myself [01:40:00] affecting spaces around me as much is I, I think about them a lot. Like every time I walk into a space, I look around the room and I draw inspiration. I'm like, Oh, okay. I'll do that on the bird next year.
Mm-hmm. . But I do very little execution outside of it.
[01:40:14] CK: I see. Okay. Maybe another way to ask this question is, um, as a camp organizer for the last 10 years, you have obviously affected change or transformation within people that have flow through your camps. What ripple effects have you seen with your effort of organizing or, or actually, what ripple effects have you seen within individuals or within communities or families?
After they have come through, um, Kme Epic.
[01:40:48] Lee: Wow, that's a good win. The, the biggest ripple I see is that the building of communities within that sprout from the camp that [01:41:00] I have very little control over. Um, so around the art core, we like, we built an art car for burning men itself. But now the art car has a art car group that manages it. And we had a meeting about this on Monday that they want to take the art car into the world and start doing events.
And, uh, a few skiers in camp, they started a WhatsApp chat group about, Okay, I'm going skiing, who from camp wants to go with? And now we have like the, the ski group and then there was the LA group and then there was a Vegas group. Um, and all these sub subgroups that. People started hanging out and, and it goes back to the, the, the advice that I gave for new people.
Just take into account how much, uh, influence you're gonna have over people's psyche and personalities once you start this camp. It's just, it really, it does ripple out and it goes back to me having three kids. I don't participate in much of those [01:42:00] groups because I have, you know, a one five, a four and seven year old.
Uh, but perhaps a few years from now I will dive into those. It just so happens that while I was building this camp, I was also building a family. And, uh, in doing so you have to choose which one, which one is more important. I, I choose the family, so I don't hang out as much with the groups that were created because of camp.
Mm-hmm. , I get to, I get to see them all at camp. Mm. But there's definitely a, there's a big influence. I just don't get to see much of it. Mm. So I can't answer that question in short.
[01:42:36] CK: Mm. Beautiful. Yeah. Hey Lee. Yeah. One last thing would be, if, if you can leave one idea, one action, one concept, one story to anyone who's listening to this, what would you gift to that person?
With this one idea
[01:42:59] Lee: that they have to do with [01:43:00] Bernie Man doesn't, No. Whatever you want. Uh, don't assign good and evil to people based on a few of their actions, cuz good people do bad things and bad people do good things, and it's the net of their actions that determines whether they're a good or a bad person.
Um, and it's the same for you. You might screw up sometimes it doesn't make you a bad person. But if most of your actions come from a good place and that's what you strive to be, then you're a good person. If not you, you're not a good person. But it's, uh, you know, take, take the long,
take a look at, at a series of things before you make a decision, which is not, you know, statistically based. Don't judge too fast yourself and others. Amazing. [01:44:00]
[01:44:00] CK: That's it, Lee. I really, really appreciate you sharing your story of how you found Burning Man, how you evolved from 2011 coming to camp, and it got inspired by secret spaces.
And then how you being, um, actively investing your life, your energy, your time to build this field of dreams. And based on what, uh, Jonathan of, uh, TIC has called you, uh, recommended you. I would say that, you know, and also based on our conversation that, uh, you're doing something right. So, so props to you and, and thank you for the sincerity and, and earnestness of, uh, really going to your journey of being a, a think Kim organizer.
So thank you so much for being a no Warrior.
[01:44:47] Lee: Thank you CK thank you for doing the series. I hope, uh, I hope it helps some people.
Born in Israel 1981, to argentinian parents. Middle chile to a 2 years older brother and 5 years younger sister.
Dad moved to Israel when he was 13 and mom came on a trip to Israel when she was 18 and met my dad who was the tour guide for her trip.
First memory: age 3 or 4, of a bottle of wine breaking on a 2 step passageway between the kitchen and living room.
My dad worked for Intel who sent him on a USA stint so at age 2 we moved to Sacramento, CA, USA and at age 3 moved to Cupertino, CA, USA.
At age 4 we moved back to israel. By then I spoke Spanish mostly and some english. Hebrew came next.
In first grade (age 6-7) I stole my first item. This began a two decade relationship with lying and theft. That relationship ended at age 25-ish at the bookstore at UCdavis (where i finally got caught.
I moved 4 times within Israel and found myself in one town of 400 families (but still 2 different houses) from age 10-16. I was not the cool kid at school; far from it. I was not the geek or “smart” kid either, though sometimes I skipped class to read the encyclopedia, among other things.
I kept failing more and more clases and by 10th grade I was bound to barely pass highschool or not graduate.
At age 17 my parents pushed me to shift my behavior and join a military academy. I got accepted but we ended up moving back to Cupertino, CA, USA for a job my dad landed.
The school I transferred to had my transcripts translated to “B” grade across the board. Not sure if it was a mistake or one of the most magnificent gifts any stranger ever gave me. But i realized then that all i had to do was complete two years of school to get a diploma. So i went for it.
That year was also the one I realized I had issues. I was missing israel… a palce where i had suicidal thoughts, thought no one loved me, had few friends, and lived a semi criminal existance. I caught myself missing the place I hated a few months earlier and realized the problem/s must be within me.
I still remained a “bad kid” but the changes began then.
I ended up at a community college where I discovered magic (the art form, not the card game) and failed all my classes that quarter. I eventually transferred to UC Davis, CA.
To prove to myself that i was not stupid i dicided to take extra classes in everything.
I made up for the lack of math, programming, chemistry, physics, writing…. That I never learned in highschool.
Graduated age 24?25?-ish with BS in psychology with emphasis in mathematics and statistics.
Moved in with my girlfriend and began construction after building a way larger than average retaining wall at my dad's property. Then working for a contractor friend.
I severed 3 fingers, luckily got to keep them, regained their use after a year of therapy.
Had to relearn magic moves on my left hand.
Around the same time I was ring shopping, my girlfriend of 6 years left me. I was lost. Very lost.
It took months of depression to learn one of the most important lessons of my life: Good people do bad things (equally, bad people do good things).
Ended up leaving for a trip with no planned ending, shortly before turning 28.
That trip took me from CA south. Through central america, and much of south america for 1 year, then europe and israel for 5 months, then vegas for a month, before going back to CA.
I met my current wife and mother of 3 kids (boy 7, girl 4, boy 1) on month 13 of that trip, in Berlin.
After the trip I began studying to be a financial advisor / trader and 3-4 months later moved to las vegas for trading work.
A year later I moved to LA to start a business to get a financial foothold strong enough to get my now wife to move to the US.
I discovered BM shortly after moving to LA and started a camp. It consumes much of my time and thoughts ever since it began. At this point it defines me more than my current job/s. The idea behind camp was focused on creating an inspiring and inviting space that will host and house any number of fluid projects. A space that people want to be at merely for its architecture and efficient design.
Along the way of building such a space, camp became much more than that.
Fast forward 10 years and CK asked me for a Bio.
So, here we are.
Myself defined in 3 words:
Lucky, interested, logical
1) To live in a way where people I care for, and/or admire, aspire to be more like me. Especially my kids.
2) to be at peace.
Age 11-13: selling flowers door to door.
12-13: worked at a bakery
14-16: paper boy for 3 different news papers
18-21: waiter.com - online ood ordering startup (cutting edge at the time)
22 - 28 - gig work at a close up magician.
23-23: equestrian center instructor assistant. Got fired once they realized i didn't know much. I got the job by reading equestrian for dummies. I used to have horses in Israel but was never professionally trained or educated on the subject. I went through a similar issue when I read chemistry for dummies to pass entry exams in UCD.
23-24: research assistant in Sacramento Children's Hospital - researching autistic kids.
25-28 - construction, where i learned how to create things
26-30 - learn how to play poker, supplement some of my income playing online and in casinos,
28-30 - start and run a website for teaching words necessary for the GRE.
28-29.5 - buy a car for $300, drive south and disappear for 18 months. Becoming a professional traveler / homeless person. The most educational time of my life. So many lessons in 18 months… they reshaped who i was.
30-31 - prop trader at a securities trading firm in Las vegas (happened after solving a rubix cube in an elevator in front of a firm owner. Not the same firm)
32-37 - open and manage spray tan salons in west Hollywood and Beverly hills. one of the most educational experiences / relationships of my life.
32 - present - take control over my own investments and finances - real estate, occasional stock or fund pics, other long term investments.
35 - present - working in private event productions in LA