The wind arrived last night, and it didn’t stop all night, or all the next day. And with it came the dust.
It’s been curious to be so relatively windstorm-free for what, 11 days? (counting the off-playa hiatus). Every other time I’ve come out here, there’s always been a whiteout as I was arriving. The first time, I’ve got to tell you, it was pretty unsettling. But it was also one of those moments you don’t ever forget; you don’t forget who you were with, or what you were wearing, or what music was playing, or exactly how you felt.
So coming in and out of Gate road now that the wind is here puts the community imperative on you. Yes, you want to get where you’re going. And you probably want to get there faster than 5 miles an hour. But if you do, you kick up the dust. And the wind carries the dust across the whole camp. So you don’t go faster than 5 miles an hour, and if you DO see someone going faster, you give them the palms up sign out the window, or you hear them get scolded on the radio.
(A little word about the radio. The radio is the only way of communicating out here, other than talking face to face. There are no phones; don’t be silly. So there’s no texting, either, can you imagine? And no IM. But there are radios. Quite a few of them. And there are trunks and channels to route all the conversations. I’ve been on DPW Site channel 4 until today. It’s a great channel. Busy. Important. Vital to the building of the city. But I switched over to Media Mecca today, because that’s more where I belong, really. So goodbye to HazMatt and Playground and Reyposado and Sleep Dep and Big Stick and dozens and dozens of other voices, and hello to Meow Meow and Action Girl and Kid Hack and all the new crew. Nice to be here!)
Every day things happen and you can’t keep up. They put the triangular top of the obelisk up on the Man base today, and I wasn’t there. Last night, they dropped the spiral staircase in the middle of the Temple, and I wasn’t there. Crap. … It’s just like the event week, really. You check out the What Where When booklet and mark it all up with the great things you’re going to do — oh yeah, I DO want frozen eclairs and champagne at 3:30 on Wednesday. Elk dinner? Yes please. Oh, and I really want to go down to that camp where they’re making the cool necklaces.
And then stuff happens and you get distracted and maybe there’s a windstorm, so you duck into a cool-looking dome and there’s a nice crowd at the bar and they’re serving icy margaritas and what the hell, let’s just hang out here for awhile. That’s just how it goes.
So when I went out to the Temple today, there was the staircase, all in place. Brandon, the guy who built it, was there, too, but he had a migraine, and he probably wasn’t enjoying the moment as much as he might have wanted. What, the heat and the dust and wind and the stress, that doesn’t help a migraine? No, he said, laughing a little. So I suggested a Coca Cola, which I’d heard somewhere was good for a migraine. I hope it helped.
Because Brandon’s been working every weekend for months and months, and every waking moment for the past two weeks, to see his staircase finally dangling on the end of a crane and being lowered into place in the Temple. “We know it weighs 5,001 pounds now,” Brandon said, because a gauge on the crane tells you how heavy the load is.
Shrine was walking around the Temple, too, giving out hits of his very delicious iced tea. “Lots of good stuff in there, too,” he said. Shrine is the artist behind the Temple (but not, he is quick to tell you, the engineer or the architect. “I’m not a math guy,” he said. But he wasn’t being dismissive in the slightest. Just the opposite. He seemed profoundly grateful that there were people around like Tucker, the project director, who could understand his vision and then actually make it happen.
Shrine’s done this kind of thing before. He did the tea house at last year’s Burn, the Tasseograph, and he does lots of other large works. He had a piece at the Glade festival, and the Boom festival in Portugal, and even the House of Blues in Chicago. (“Four months of Chicago winter,” he said. “That was tough.”) But this is the biggest thing, at least in physical dimension, that he’s ever done. Lady Bee called him over the winter and asked if he wanted to take the torch from David Best, and now here is is. Twenty-two years without a day job, and still busy as hell.
He’s had a work schedule like Brandon’s lately. Like, 11 hours a day for two months straight as he’s come down the stretch. And there’s still tons more to do. In the big geodesic dome that I mistakenly took for a chill space the first time I was out there, half a dozen people are zip-tying crushed aluminum cans together, and painting elaborate patterns on wood, and generally getting ready for the transformation.
Everything you’ll see on the Temple is recovered material. By that I mean, it’s stuff that other people have thrown away, or has washed up on the shore. The only exception is the lumber for the poles, and they were harvested in sustainable fashion. But mostly, it’s stuff other people don’t want any more. The discards. The Basura Sagrada, the sacred trash.
“It’s transforming,” Shrine said. “You’re taking what other people have no use for and giving it new life.” Shrine knows the power that the Temple can have. People take things out there all week, things they’d like to put behind them, maybe, or mourn, or try to forget. “There have been women who’ve taken the dress they were raped in and put it out here (to watch it burn),” he said. “They have intentions for a new life.
“The toughest times are when you have to let things go, but it can transform you.”
I have a few things for the Temple this year, too, including a couple of photos of my dog, Gracie, a chocolate lab who died in February. The Temple burn is one of the few remaining days of ritual in my life, and I know I’m not alone (not in the belief, and not on that day).
In other news, the Center Camp Cafe continues to rise. In fact, there’s a bit of a changing of the guard going on there now. I was going to say that most of the heavy lifting is finished, what with all the holes dug and the poles placed and the cables strung and the screens hung, and all of it holding rock solid in the steady wind. But that would diminish the work of the Decor people, who’re starting to become the center of all the energy now. But still, you understand how he feels when one of the old crew talks about what’s going to happen next and he says, “You know, all the art s**t.”
All the art s**t. That and more, brother, that and more.