Wasteland Weekend: It's My Apocalypse, And I'll Party If I Want To

Enter at your own risk.
Enter at your own risk.
Brian Erzen

For more photos check out our slideshow, The People of Wasteland Weekend

Blood sports, cars, hot chicks, music, booze, and gambling -- who knew that the apocalypse would be so much fun?

Actually, make that the post-apocalypse, which serves as the setting, dress code, and all-purpose adjective suitable to describe any situation, object, or person you encounter over the course of Wasteland Weekend, the Mad Max-themed annual party in the California City desert.

The phrase "post-apocalyptic" may not always roll trippingly off the tongue, especially when mixed with intoxication, but liberal use of the descriptor will certainly lend a greater feeling of authenticity to your Wasteland Weekend experience. To wit: "Can I borrow your post-apocalyptic hairspray?" or "Pass me the post-apocalyptic bong," or "Quit being such a post-apocalyptic dick."

The barbarians at the gate
The barbarians at the gate
Brian Erzen

Actually, hardly anyone is that much of a dick in the fake post-apocalypse, it turns out. They may dress all scary and look all scary and drive scary cars and wear scary mohawks and breathe scary fire and strip down to scary pasties, but really, there's a neighborly, small-town feeling here that makes for a nice contrast to larger events such as -- oh, I don't know, maybe that other party in the desert that has theme camps and costumes and fire dancers but about 49,000 more people.

Comparisons to Burning Man are inevitable, so let's get that out of the way right quick. Wasteland Weekend (1) is organized around a single theme (2) doesn't ever look like a glowsticky rave (3) allows cash vending and (4) is way cheaper. Ironically, there is at this smaller event a lesser feeling of free-for-all in that most of the entertainment centers primarily around organized performances at a main stage, which is simultaneously Wasteland Weekend's strong and weak point. Putting the onus on themselves to create the spectacle, Wasteland's organizers eliminate the exciting chaos that random and disorganized participant-created entertainment can provide, yet they do succeed in keeping tight reins on their theme instead of lazily letting things spin into disarray like the hippies would do were they in charge. Only problem is, the event's organizers have given themselves a tall order by being the only game in town. If you don't like the DJ and the burlesque girls aren't around, there's not much to do but make your own trouble.

The highly staged Thunderdome battles had all the excitement of community dinner theater, yet a highly un-staged injury during Saturday afternoon's Jugger game left one of the faux-bloodthirsty players racked with remorse upon learning that he had unintentionally given a good friend a serious injury in the interest of showmanship. It's a balancing act that all such events grapple with: how to preserve the feeling of anarchic freedom that the open desert practically begs you to revel in while avoiding the buzz-killing side effects of injuries or friction with law enforcement? It's a tricky question with no simple answer.

Still, Wasteland Weekend manages to be a dusty riot, if you're into that sort of thing. Dune buggies and dirt bikes and Interceptors buzz by, kicking up clouds of dirt, and the costumes, oh god, the costumes: soooooo good. Post-apocalyptic, at minimum, isn't that hard of a look to pull off, only a notch above "hobo" in costume-creation difficulty, so when people put the effort in -- and a lot of people did -- the effect is a re-enactors dream. Enforcement of dress code here, rather than feeling conformist, has more the air of team spirit. For example, during the group photo, one guy wearing just cargos and a beige t-shirt tried to jump into the shot. But rather than being ridiculed or kicked out, he was quickly fixed up with a loaned set of shoulder pads and a weapon.

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You might risk getting fake beaten to a fake pulp if you uttered the word PLUR here, but Wasteland Weekend's single, uniform theme, the Mad Max version of the future (with some Fallout mixed in) does make for a feeling of unit cohesion that just don't happen at more humongous events. And it makes sense: if civilization collapsed, once you got food and gasoline, all there'd be left to do is get hell-bent on fun.

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