Shade is not a luxury item in Black Rock City. It’s essential. Right up there with water and sleep, you gotta have it. So it should come as no surprise to find out that Burning Man has a semi-professional hit squad of shade putter-uppers working round the clock to make shade for staff and participants alike.
I joined the shade crew today, just in the nick of time for Booty Shorts Day. After breakfast at the commissary, we boarded the big green bus and headed out for the Artery, Burning Man headquarters for Art Placement & Artist Support. Tool belts on, nails and screws loaded in the pockets, and gloves at the ready. Grab a ladder off the side of the bus or a Dewalt out of the tool box, and fall in.
The wooden frame for this site was constructed during yesterday’s shift, so we started by rolling out sheets of shade cloth on the ground and lining up strips of batten along the edges. Then four or five of us used hammer staples to attach the shade cloth to the batten and roll the pieces back up. Half a dozen members of the shade crew got up on ladders and, like some kind of hot pants clad ninja street gang, swung a leg over the seat, received the shade cloth from the ground crew, and pulled it taught. Then they started hammering away, attaching cloth to frame. The sound of six hammers connecting again and again to nails would be the soundtrack to the day.
The ladders were moved simultaneously for each section of the shade structure until the thing was complete. When we were done, we loaded up the bus with tools and ladders and ourselves, and headed over to Ranger Headquarters. This time, the holes for the posts had been drilled, and the frame was ready, so we started by erecting the frame. We used a two by six to align the posts, and then Rooster stood back and called out instructions for lining up the posts. Either kick a little dirt in and lift it up, jump up and down on the cross-post, or move it to the left or right. After each post was lined up, two shovels and a tamper moved in to set the post. I notice there’s not a level around for miles. Awesome.
We grabbed Dewalts and ladders and headed up to attach the two by six cross beams. This was the best part by far, since we got to use power tools. On ladders. In booty shorts. We lined up the beams along the top and sides, and then used badass screws to attach them. We did this for the entire structure and then attached the shade cloth like before. I got to nail the crushed PBR can to one of the posts when we were finished. So cool! Katy ran the magnet rake around the whole area, and we packed up, on to our next target.
Our last stop before lunch was the Department of Mutant Vehicles. Here, we built the whole structure from scratch. We were lucky, the wind wasn’t blowing like it was yesterday, and it wasn’t too hot today. We had music all day long, and we got fluffed by Nipps. Ideal working conditions, no?
The Shade Crew is like the playa strike team. They’re in, they’re out. You never see them, and you’ve never actually met one of them, but you know they’re out there. They might be dangerous, but you’re not sure. I wonder what they do in the off-season.
Fun at Night
This morning at the commissary I asked Reggie when we could all get together again, and he suggested tonight. So, as is the way in BRC, about 50 or 60 people showed up for a little party at Crude Awakenings. They have such a great crew, their camp is welcoming, and they work really hard. In fact, they were working well into the night, coming in late to join the party as they finished under the crescent moon and giant spot lights.
Later a few of us went to the commissary for a midnight snack since we had suddenly and predictably gotten the munchies. We ducked into the back room, and Doyle showed me some online video from his art projects. (Go here for a good show:
Afterwards we drove out to the hot springs for a very late night adventure. It felt great to swim around in the warm water. The air temperature was cold, so we were reluctant to leave, but we made a mad dash for the towel and zoomed back to camp.
- Wanda Power