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The Brush Brigade

Happy Toothbrushers at Burning ManAt Burning Man, participants share gifts freely with the community. These gifts range from simple objects (my favorite this year was a pendant that changes color with my mood/temperature) and food/drink to large scale dance clubs with international DJs. Our gift to the Burning Man community is small, but unique. We call it the Brush Brigade.

The Brush Brigade is a mobile toothbrushing unit, complete with new toothbrushes, toothpaste, water and working sinks. Without the Brush Brigade, people often skip brushing their teeth because everyone is camping and there are no real bathrooms (only porta-potties). Our cart provides a much needed service, improving oral hygiene and freshening breath, but also making brushing fun. It is one truly of the best ideas I have ever had the privileged to help bring from concept into reality.

The idea for the Brush Brigade was germinated in 1996 when Jennie and I attended our first Burning Man. We stopped by Bianca’s Smut Shack and were offered small tastes of food laid out on an artist’s pallet. We declined because we had just brushed our teeth. Later in the evening we made our way back to the Shack and discovered they had added some toothpaste to the tastes on the pallet tray. We were intrigued by the idea of sharing toothpaste/toothbrushing as a gift, but it did not become concrete until 2001. We were brainstorming about how to participate that year with friends Corey and Aurora. We told them the story about the toothpaste and Aurora suggested a toothbrushing cart. We refined the idea together and the Brush Brigade was born. Here’s a history: Brush Brigade History
As you can see, we started out very low-tech. We’re a little more advanced now with the working sinks and water collection, throughout the years the team has changed but the energy remains the same. This year we were out on the playa with 500 toothbrushes and it was an amazing experience to give the gift of clean teeth. It is really a simple thing, but it brings a lot of joy. I love telling someone that they can brush their teeth right here, right now and watching the excitement on their face. We also won an award this year! We placed first in the Black Rock County Fair’s Oral Hygiene Division (given by Catie from the Temple of Flux).

PoloAndCrew_BM2004 This year we had our first repeat customer! Polo from Paris brushed his teeth with us in 2004 and said he has saved that toothbrush for all these years to remind him of the good times. Here’s a picture Polo shared with me from 2004 (in the photo to the left are Carolyn, Maitland, Polo and Seth).
Here’s the 2010 Brush Brigade team Kelley, Kate, Aurora and I (Jennie didn’t end up coming out to the event with us, long story but she was there in spirit); and cart:
2010 Brush Brigade Team and Cart You can find more photos of the cart in my Burning Man photoset on Flickr.

This year was so much fun, I can’t wait to do it again. We’ve got some ideas for improving the cart in the future: more and softer brushes, toothpaste tubes with attached caps and perhaps a mirror for making sure you don’t have toothpaste on you face. We definitely need to decorate more, we had a large lit up toothbrush planned to adorn the top of the cart, but we just didn’t get it together out there. I’d also like to decorate the canvas cover with a painted mural.

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