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Wasteland Weekend 2018 – A Revelry in the Ruins of the Real World: An Insider’s Perspective

an entrance to a post apocalyptic city with guards on towers at the gate

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There is one brief magical time of year between the onset of Pumpkin Spice Latte season and Halloween when doomsday preppers, custom car mechanics, video-game costume players, industrial- metal fans, fire jugglers and leather bondage fetishists form an unlikely alliance to build a temporary community in the scorching heat of California’s Mojave Desert. Wasteland Weekend started in 2009 with a group of dedicated fans of the original Mad Max trilogy, The Blood of Heroes and other post-apocalyptic movies from the 80’s and 90’s. Some built custom-made replicas of vehicles from the Mad Max trilogy (gear-heads…now known as “Black Thumbs” here) while others created elaborate costumes from the movies (cos-players).

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My favorite photo of our tribe. #wastelandweekend2018

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As the event grew it added “Jugger matches.” Jugger is a highly competitive, startingly serious, mostly violent, and always entertaining game based on the movie The Blood of Heroes starring Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen (it’s also one of Vincent D’Onofrio’s early films). Soon folks started showing up with costumes based on the Fallout video game series, obscure cult movies such as Six String Samurai and the crowds kept getting larger.

Today the event has expanded like the Trinity Test Site mushroom cloud into a massive temporary human social experiment where the fears of nuclear armageddon, antibiotic-resistant pandemics, and global climate crisis can be mentally managed and even celebrated in a playful bacchanalia of live entertainment and copious amounts of alcohol (occasionally spiked with high levels of chilly extract).

It’s not for the faint hearted. It is not a “safe space” for the socially lost and emotionally searching free-loving ideological utopianists who want a cuddle pile under stars by a crackling camp fire (although if you do that no one would care). It’s more dystopian themed, with the music of KMFDM, Die Antwoord, and Mindless Self Indulgence blaring from the orifices of several temporarily built structures simultaneously.

If dancing isn’t one’s thing there is always live entertainment such as bands, burlesque, a drag show, a circus side show, a puppet theatre and even a film festival.

One of the most imposing structures at the event is a full scale Thunderdome re-creation from the third Mad Max film where the safety conscious onlooker can scale the metal steelwork dome and watch enemies, friends, or even family members beat each other with padded bats as they are flung around on bungee cord harnesses.

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Thunderdome at #WastelandWeekend2018

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There is something here for everyone, but it is NOT for everyone. For instance, a Ham radio enthusiast would probably have a great time discussing building radios out of spare parts with Swede over the Wasteland Communication Corporation, but not necessarily enjoy munching a sliced pickle that’s been soaking in moonshine for a few days while watching a flail and chain demonstration by a dominatrix.

One of the main attractions this year was a visit by actor Nathan Jones, a hulking mass of a man who played the character of Rictus Erectus in Mad Max: Fury Road. Mr. Jones donned his costume to portray Rictus (the protagonist who was capable of ripping an engine block out of moving tanker truck but also needs a TMJ jaw-sling and supplemental oxygen tubes in his nostrils), and made himself available for autograph signing and selfies. There are so many amazing activities and people to interact with at Wasteland Weekend, my simple write up can NOT do it justice. With all the excitement I wasn’t able to talk with the event’s organizer but I did get a chance to chat with a few long-time event staples. I only use folks’ “Wasteland Names” here as I want to talk to their persona, the one that stays here in the wastes and has little connection to the real world. My Wasteland name, unfortunately, ended up being Papaya since 2012 (but my codpiece is named “bad-touch”).

The first person I was able to talk with this year has been coming since the beginning. The iconic David D (he’s just known by his real name so I won’t use it in its entirety). I ran into David (whose voice is reminiscent of a cheese grater being dragged across the rusting muffler of a 73 Ford Falcon XB) while sitting on some distressed patio furniture behind a four-foot patch of dusty AstroTurf.

Papaya (P): “So what keeps you coming back David?”

David: “The people. The community. These people changed my life. I don’t unpack right after wasteland, it doesn’t stop for me. It’s a life.”

P: “Does coming here help relieve real world anxieties about the end of civilization?”

David: “Yes…For me, it’s like that line from the documentary We Are Wasteland: ‘It’s not about the fall of man…but for the new beginning.’”

P: “How would the event change to make you stop coming every year?”

David: “If it gets too much bigger it will change. I think this size, around 4,000 people is big enough.”

P: “You often say the word ‘CHOICE’ as a one-line statement, what does that mean?”

David: “I get up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror and ask am I gonna be the best I can be today, or am I gonna be a dick. It’s a choice. Chose to be the best you can be, like what they stamp on a slab of beef. Grade-A-CHOICE.”

P: “How do you think the apocalypse will actually happen?”

David: “The bees…. once they go, we go. And they are already going.”

David pauses for a moment to creek out “Get off my lawn!” to an approaching friend as a smirk cracks wide above his blond goatee. I appreciated him speaking with me considering he had lost his voice. Not being able to speak above a raspy whisper will definitely give him a degree of vulnerability as he gets officially Roasted on Saturday Evening.

The next character I ran into was Mitzy Mayhem, the tall slender figure sporting a pink mohawk who performs Burlesque with the Molotov Mollies and hosts “Boozy Yoga” for those who need a chakra alignment after a night of heavy drinking.

P: “What keeps you coming back year after year?”

Mitzy: “The people and the community.”

P: “What real world apocalyptic anxieties does this event help you deal with?”

Mitzy: “All of them. This is an escape from them all.”

P: “How could the event change for you to stop coming?”

Mitzy: “A cultural shift. If it becomes more commercial, like a Coachella.”

P: “How do you think civilization will really end?”

Mitzy: “Robots, intelligent robots will take over.”

Mitzy was quickly whisked away to attend another event, but I was glad I got to run into her right after she finished judging the Worst Lamp competition.

I eventually found my way over to Ragnarock of Rust and met Whacker, an imposing character with a shaved head and grey beard who, as leader of the Juggers, has been an integral part of Wasteland Weekend since 2009.

P: “What keeps you coming back?”

Whacker: “Being the unifying force in the league. These Juggers serve this community and they are a vital part of it. I have spent over $17,000 on personal medical bills because of Jugger. It’s real. All of this is the only home I’ve ever known.”

P: “What real world apocalyptic anxieties does this event help you deal with?”

Whacker: “This isn’t connected to anything, I have no image to uphold. I can just be myself. When things go south [in the real world], some will need to lead. I lead my Juggers, it doesn’t work without me. So I know I could lead.”

P: “How could the event change for you to stop coming?”

Whacker: “If too many broken people who need their hand held start coming. Back when this started it was made of doomsday preppers and punks. That made it good. But it could change too much if too many hippies with toxic personalities show up.

P: “How do you think civilization will really end?”

Whacker: “Barring a natural disaster like Yellowstone erupting…I think it will be a slow financial breakdown. The smart people will get out early, the folks that already see it coming. Preppers and the people who live out at Slab City will know what to do. Their children play among grave-stones. Reality isn’t hidden from them. They will do fine.”

Whacker has the image of your classic Wastelander. Intimidating, even without the patchwork of rubber tire armor he needs for Jugger. But this is a community of people, and like all communities not everyone is as hardened and gritty as Max Rockatansky (from the Mad Max movies). After the apocalypse most people will probably just want to relax and live a carefree lifestyle after shedding the burden of taxes and parking tickets. Most folks will probably be like Big Disco. Big Disco has been coming since 2011 and can be easily spotted by his distinctive lack of leather biker gloves, armor, or military style gear. Instead he sports a bushy mess of natural curly hair, glasses, and some simple dirty old clothes. His outfit, however, is decorated with the shattered pieces of some old irrelevant technology that may have been important to civilization at one time but now only serve as body-covering reflectors that shine in the moonlight and repel packs of night prowling feral dogs. The pieces of technology I’m speaking of are, of course, Compact Disks and DVDs. Items that are already filling the top layer of our modern land-fill archaeological record.

P: “What keeps you coming back?”

Big Disco: “The escape of it all. The chance to be ridiculous. Here you can be whoever you want to be.”

P: “What real world apocalyptic anxieties does this event help you deal with?”

Big Disco: “It offers a chance to re-center from all the distraction of the problems in the real world.”

P: “How could the event change for you to stop coming?”

Big Disco: “When it stops providing what it provides now, the escape and fun. Also, maybe when my body just can’t handle the physical aspects of it anymore. Getting older after all.”

P: “I know what you mean, I had to give away my cool distressed boots and use comfortable boots with orthotic inserts.”

Big Disco: “Heck yeah, when I started coming here back in 2011 I had these crazy alligator slippers. Now I’m rocking the SuperFeet inserts as well.”

P: “How do you think civilization will really end?”

Big Disco: “Slow environmental collapse.”

If Disco exemplifies the lighter more whimsical side of the End-Stage Anthropocene, its darker side can be seen in Jesse, one of the Blood Thorns. I only had a brief encounter with Jesse, but he left a mark. With his piercing eyes, slicked back hair and simple leather jacket, Jesse is kind of what you’d get if Willem Dafoe had an evil conjoined twin that was surgically removed at birth but kept alive in an incubator fed only with diesel exhaust fumes.

P: “What keeps you coming back?”

Jesse: “I love this, this is me. I’ve been coming here since the beginning. Original Blood Thorns.”

P: “What real world apocalyptic anxieties does this event help you deal with?”

Jesse: “Knowing these kids will be better prepared for the raiders that are coming.”

P: “How could the event change for you to stop coming?”

Jesse: “It couldn’t happen.”

P: “How do you think civilization will really end?”

Jesse: “Our NEXT president.”

Jesse is one of those wastelanders who truly thrives in chaos. When the end does come, and we are left sifting through the ashes for scraps of the old world, Jesse is one of the folks you might want on your side…preferably watching your back with a sawed-off double-barrel 12 gauge loaded with homemade shells packed with tetanus laden rusty bolts, as a buffer between you and the madness of the wasteland.

Guest Post Written By Papaya

@ohmeggz on Twitter

Check out our other great coverage of Wasteland Weekend 2018:

http://Wasteland Weekend 2018: Photos from a Mad Max World

Wasteland Weekend 2018 Schedule: Ever Wonder What Happens? Wonder No More

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