08/15/2012 07:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Speed Levitch Loves Black Rock City

Timothy "Speed" Levitch is an actor, tour guide, speaker, author, and Kansas City and New York City tour guide. Born July 9, 1970 in New York City, Levitch received his tour guide license in 1992 from the Central Park Conservancy. He later took a position with Apple and Gray Line Tours as a tour bus guide. He soon attracted a cult following, due not only to his fast talking style, but also for his obvious love of his native city and passionate philosophical ideas. Levitch's fame spread beyond NYC after Director Bennett Miller made Speed the subject of the 1998 documentary "The Cruise." Levitch is currently staring in the Richard Linklater travel show "Up To Speed" on Hulu, in which Speed talks about America and to our country's great monuments. Black Rock City is the home-base for Burning Man.


Dear Black Rock City,

BRC, you're the greatest use of neon on the planet. You're the capital city of incendiaries, a convention for bon vivants and those who have attained a fine-tuned-taste-for-living. BRC, you're my private version of Vegas, where a good citizen is dumbfounded, baby. You're my favorite city, a great metropolis and its parody simultaneous!

You're the invisible city that I actually reside in.

You're a city built by artists, which makes you, according to Webster's dictionary, officially a piece of art. You sit on sacred ground of the Washoe Tribe, and, rumors are stirring that the Washoe ancestors who watch over that land love you.

Black Rock City, the media knows you by another name, "Burning Man," but --quite frankly -- "Burning Man" has become over the years, a convenient term for you. I think you'll agree, a term is what happens whenever language and laziness hang out and have a beer--a few beers. For BRC, you are more than just "...a party in the desert," you are a prototype metropolis that runs on an innovative economy -- a gift economy.

The wooden man, known as "The Man," that stands in the middle of the city. He's an icon for the place and he's at the center because "The Man" was the first gift that begat all the other gifts being given and received around him. He enjoys this very rare example of an actual, oxygenated, gift-economy in motion.

Many have asked: "Are you really a city?" Well, you do have a department of public works and all the basic institutions, including medical and police, a tax, which is the admission price, a gridded system of streets and water (brought to you by your population). BRC, you have many public facilities and amenities, and long lines for ice. Your primary, essential law is that each citizen of BRC must participate. No spectating. If you do too much non-participatory-gawking, you'll end up in "Spectator Camp" which is nothing but a set of empty bleacher seats. Black Rock City, (you know the secret), when the citizens of a city feel like co-collaborators, when each one feels responsible for co-making a giant piece of art that is also their city, the result is a city with streets that never have litter.

You are a city named for the Black Rock Desert, because that is the desert that utterly surrounds you. An engineer-resident of BRC told me that Black Rock's temporary existence is a noble example in the history of cities, proving the long-maintained axiom that all you really need to make a city is a flat surface. BRC, you sit on a surface that's not only flat, it's fluffy. It's the Playa - a prehistoric lakebed that was probably once the site for similiar conventions amongst Trilobites.

When you're fully operational, Black Rock City, you are a population of 40,000 strong, making you, approximately, the 20th largest city in the state of Nevada for a period of six days.

Black Rock City, you are shaped like a U, because you are generous and open-hearted and your U is two great 7-mile-long arms, reaching out to embrace the desert. Whenever one looks out the open-end of your U, one is greeted with a great view of infinity - for, all one sees is the seemingly never ending desert, the true Mayor of BRC.

A Friday night in BRC is an abstract-expressionistic painterly stroke of technicolor reality splattered across vast landscapes of earth and blank canvas.

Of course, the citizenry of BRC is its true landmark, and it was BRC that taught me that the greatest landmarks have heartbeats.

For instance, the "New Name Campers" are out on the town doing their thing. The New-Namers, they'll set up a table along a busy pedestrian path, outside the local coffee shop, for instance. You're walking into get a coffee, and they'll call out at you, "Jason! I didn't know you were here! Great to see you." Then, two minutes later, you walk back out with your coffee, and the same guys are like, "Ralph! Alright. Now the party can start." As you get the hang of their game, the next time you're walking into get your coffee, and after they greet you as, "Larry," you turn to the New-Namers and say, "Gary! Vishnu! Great to see you guys!" When I would go to a party at New Name Camp, I would come out with 35 new names. It was very liberating.

Black Rock City, you're the kind of city that even supplies preferable moments to feel dejected and self-deprecating - why be selfish with your moments of self-pity? Why not put it to use it for a collaborative theater experiment! For instance, many times I happened to be feeling down and less than confident right in time to find myself suddenly traipsing in front of "Flattery Camp." Flattery Camp is a community of flatterers who build a patio in the heart of Black Rock City, with rocking chairs and big pillows, and they drink lemonade and flatter who ever happens by.

"You look great! Very debonaire!" one of them calls out to me. "Wherever you're going is a lucky place!" another tells me.

BRC, I often think you were speaking directly through that shaman who orchestrated "The Wasabi Ceremony." When the beautiful Wasabi girls, dressed all in lime green, brought out trays filled with small piles of wasabi. As we were forced to ingest one of the wasabi piles, the wasabi shaman said, "There is no experience more direct than wasabi. Wasabi awakens you in every way." The ceremony went on like this until the shaman pronounced, "If you need more enlightenment, go and get some!"

Rush hour has a similiar look and feel to a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Only art cars form the phalanx of traffic. A giant, rolling eyeball, in bumper to bumper traffic with a cadillac-now-a-lobster that's behind a van that's a big pile of grapes, which is actually the taxi service that takes you, express, to Camp Dionysus. All of them, stuck behind the municipal bus, which is a dragon that has a martini bar going strong in its belly.

Black Rock City, other cities pick on you and their skeptical city-dwellers are quick to point out that you aren't sustainable, but you and I both know that they're totally missing the point. For you are a city of the future. Unlike the cities of today, you're not hell-bent on self-perpetuation. Black Rock City, you're not built to be sustainable because you're too busy being proud to be biodegradable!

Love you baby,
Speed Levitch