The One Where Grover Norquist And I Decompress From Burning Man

The Libertarian-leaning Republican leader of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist went back to Washington, D.C. this week after his first visit to Burning Man. The two of us were able to catch up this week and decompress  – a word burners use to describe how they adjust back into life after experiencing Black Rock City. This was both our first time at Burning Man. This is our decompression conversation:

Me: Hi Grover, may I call you Grover or would you prefer your playa name?

Grover: I did not have a playa name but I’ve never had a nickname. Nobody’s ever given me a nickname. Grover is unique enough.

Me: Grover it is. So what’s different now, after you’ve been to Burning Man?

GN: I’d been talking for several years with Larry Harvey before I went. I had kind of an intellectual understanding of what it was. I read up and watched videos. But there were two things I got wrong – I went and saw something that was more impressive than what I had ever imagined. I intellectually knew, but the amount of work and the art and the amount of stuff was bigger and more impressive than I realized. I have been to the Louvre. This was more impressive. Not that the Louvre or those places aren’t impressive, but I didn’t expect it.

Me: How did you feel leaving Burning Man, leaving the place? Was it hard to do?

GN: Well I hitched a ride with a guy with an RV and the battery died on our car. I was going to shave and shower but there’ were no hotels anywhere. So it’s 5 am and we get dropped off at one of the casinos in Reno but there was no room. So we’re in the Starbucks, my wife and I, and we get a shuttle ride to the airport and we see a guy covered in dust, no shoes. And we’re covered in dust, too. All of us burners. This other guy comes over to the guy with no shoes and gives him his other shoes. Then they parted ways. They didn’t know each other. I’m thinking both of those guys and me are for decades going to remember this moment.

Me: Did you feel like you’d left home?

GN: Oh, I don’t know I could call it that…I didn’t feel like I’d gone somewhere and come back. I didn’t know what to call it. It’s not quite that you are back to reality. It was a more confusing homecoming because I’m already thinking about next time. That’s different. I started noticing when I went back to shaking hands instead of hugging them. I’m not really a hugger. I don’t approve of promiscuous hugging. I shake hands with my dad, even. I got so used to hugging that shaking hands felt odd for a bit after.

Me: And now?

GN: I’m back to shaking hands now.

Me: How did you decompress or come down from the whole experience?

GN: I wrote three articles about it.

Me: I read the one you wrote for the Guardian. In it you said:

Some self-professed “progressives” whined at the thought of my attending what they believed was a ghetto for liberal hippies. Yes, there was a gentleman who skateboarded without elbow or kneepads – or any knickers whatsover. Yes, I rode in cars dressed-up as cats, bees and spiders; I watched trucks carrying pirate ships and 30 dancers. I drank absinthe. But anyone complaining about a Washington wonk like me at Burning Man is not a Burner himself: The first principle of Burning Man is “radical inclusiveness”, which pretty much rules out the nobody-here-but-us liberals “gated community” nonsense.

GN: Ya, I’d wanted to go for awhile, though (Grover had wanted to go in 2012 but there was a scheduling conflict between Burning Man and the Republican National Convention in Tampa).

Me: Did you have any revelations while you were there?

GN: How few rules it took. By having a sketched out city, if you live on this grid, everyone can find you. The number of rules are almost all state laws. The rules were way down. There are 4000 federal laws. They put together a city of strangers. They found fewer rules works, not more rules and even the rules they have come with a reason. Even the power of social sanctions…you have social shaming for throwing wrappers on the ground. If you are walking a mile down the road and you throw a wrapper on the ground there’s nobody there but you don’t do it because that is what everyone does. Also, wear lighting at night. People do it because they’ve been told to and so you don’t get run over. It makes sense. People lived with the loud music. Nobody said I’m calling the cops. There were camps on the edge and people who liked the loud music and wanted that could just go there.

Me: So now that you are back and in the “real” world, will you go to a decompression party?

GN: Oh ya, I’ve been invited to one in Anacostia. This guy invited me. It’s a community. I talked to my wife and I think we’ll bring the kids to that one. They say it’s kid friendly.