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Wide World of Pranks: Rant

Burning Man DMV Prank

This is a tale of my latest pranking. Since it is very much Burning Man focused, I am going to do my best to explain the details.

Since 1998 I have been working with Burning Man on improving fire safety by working with fire artists to create an event that can push the boundaries of fire without endangering lives. I also work with approving flame effects on cars for the very large art car community that goes to Burning Man. With hundreds of art cars at the event, we have even set up a DMV -- the Department of Mutant Vehicles to license art cars and to make sure they all know the regulations, how to safely operate and be a responsible citizen of Black Rock City. A former girlfriend used to head the organization, most of my friends run the DMV, including her roommate. I am a known quantity. They know I have a sense of humor. They know I tend to pull pranks.

Unfortunately for them, they forgot this.

The DMV set a deadline of July 15 to submit an application to register an art car at Burning Man. As a registered art car, you can drive the vehicle around the event. Without a registered vehicle, you cannot drive around. If you are caught driving, you car gets impounded. Considering the fact the city part of Burning Man is two miles long, it's nice to have a car or a bike. Since I am staff and I drive my car, I do not need to submit an application. I knew that lots of people waited until the last minute to send in an application. So I figured I should submit one funny application that was obviously a joke. The applications are read over by my friends who would get a little laugh, deny the application and that would be the end of it. One of the people reading over the applications is my ex-girlfriend who is bedridden and going through chemotherapy. I figured seeing my name and seeing the funny application would make her smile.

In the application I tried to be as cheeky as I could. There was a question on the theme of the vehicle. I said the theme was to get into verbal fights with the people who impound vehicles to the point they impound my vehicle. I mentioned my vehicle can carry up to 17 drunks dressed in Santa suits, which was a rather notorious story involving my car where we stuffed 17 Santas in the vehicle on a drunken Santa rampage a few years ago. All of my answers on this multi-page application were like this. Push the boundaries and the buttons was my mission. I did it very well.

About a week later I was sent a formal e-mail which said I needed to submit a photo so they can see what the art car looks like. A URL to a Web site was considered an acceptable submission. So I submitted a URL to a 40 MB QuickTime movie where my Suburban appears at the end of the video. I was sent a serious reply about how the person did not have the correct plug-in, so they could not view it. I figured this would be where the fun ends.

It didn't.

A few weeks later I was sent a serious e-mail by my friend Steve:

We have reviewed your application for a mutant vehicle and have declined to give you an on playa inspection.

As you have not described the vehicle, provided us with the requested photos, and that your intent is to carry 17 Santas (which is far and beyond any vehicle's capacity) we feel that your vehicle would actually detract from the event and cause undue headaches.

P.S. OdWally says you smell. (note: OdWally is the new head of the DMV another friend)

One thing I should mention is that people at Burning Man all have nicknames. Nobody goes by there real name. It's all part of the culture. That's why someone would knowingly have a nickname like OdWally. My nickname for some reason is Pyro Boy.

I fired back a reply that I felt this was bogus and that my vehicle could carry 17 Santas and if my vehicle was not approved, I would go to Larry Harvey to complain, as he is a personal friend of mine.

Now for those of you that do not know, Larry Harvey is the founder of Burning Man. Claiming you are a friend of Larry is a quick way to be branded an outsider and a newbie, since even Larry's friend's don't claim to be a friend of Larry. By making this claim of being a friend as someone who is an well known part of the event, I was just making fun of myself. I thought for sure this is where the fun would end and I forgot about it.

Then yesterday happened.

I got an e-mail message by someone who had chosen the worst name in the history of bad names. His Playa name was JarJar. As in JarJar Binks, the most reviled, hated and ill-received characters in the history of the Star Wars universe. Nobody in their right mind would take on the name JarJar as a playa name.

This is the message:

Thank you for your interest in having a Mutant Vehicle at Burningman this year. After careful review, the committee has decided to not grant you an on playa inspection.

If you do decide to bring the vehicle to BM without an acceptance letter, it
will not be allowed in the main gate and will need to be parked in the
"long term parking" area at the main gate. Vehicles left in this area
are not monitored.

If this vehicle is your main transportation to BM, it must remain
parked in your camp.

Sincerely,
jarjar

There is no way in hell I would pass up an opportunity to fuck with someone named jarjar. Since I claimed I was a friend of Larry in an earlier message, I figured it would be funny as hell to have Larry Harvey send an e-mail message. So I spoofed an e-mail header to make my reply look like it was from Larry Harvey. I even went as far as CC:ing other people I know in the DMV to let them in on the joke. All jarjar had to do was reply back to Larry Harvey (it had his return address, not mine), Larry would read the message and tell jarjar he never said any of this and that would be that. This is the message:

jarjar,

Wally is a friend of mine and if he feels his art car is good enough for me to smoke on and ride around the city, it's good enough for me. As a favor, please approve this car. He tends to be really high maintenance and we'll never hear the end of it.

If you have any questions, talk to Stevie or Miz Jewelz.

Thanks

I figured I would get back a message like, "Haa haa, that's funny. You're a douche, see you on the Playa."

But that is not the response I got. Instead I got a message from another fire safety inspector who is a friend of mine:

The e-mail you sent has the DMV all riled up. It's Great!

It turns out I stirred up a hurricane of shit on the DMV discussion list. Some of the people were outraged that Larry Harvey just tossed out the rule book and was forcing the DMV to approve this art car that did not qualify. Others were scared that if they didn't approve it, Larry would be mad at them. Apparently one voice of reason stated that I have a long history of messing with people and perhaps this was just a joke? They were quickly shouted down. Nobody wanted to be the one that turned down the application, so they approved my Suburban as Burning Man Art Car #1329.

I'll be having cocktails next to the Flaming Zen Garden with Larry next Sunday at Burning Man in his camp celebrating the fact that the event was up and running. I am interested in seeing if he has any comments on the shit storm or if nobody dared approach him.

I have a feeling this story is far from over.


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