final prep

We watched the Man watch the sun go down
We watched the Man watch the sun go down

Are you packed?

Were you up all night? Have you wrapped up the loose ends? Have you finally decided what will just have to wait until you get back? I know, I know, no way. But just get your mind around it: You’re going to be away for a week, and I promise, the the minute you hit Gerlach the rest of your life is going to seem like it’s a long way away, I guarantee it. It’ll be ok.

Things are going to slow down and become more simple. Your customary items of conversation — the conventions, that new iPhone cover, they’re all going to fall away and you won’t miss them. In their place will come concerns about the basics: food, water, shelter. Oh, and love, friendship and fun. The basics. It’s what’s really important, and it’s pretty much what happens here. Things become more fundamental, and it gets a little easier to live in your true self. You’ll be less connected to the world, but more connected to people.

The Man actually has a heart, too. And a lot of the people who worked on him sign their names to it.
The Man actually has a heart, too. And a lot of the people who worked on him sign their names to it.

Sorry. I might have gotten carried away there for a second. It’s happened a couple of times now. I was out at the Temple yesterday, and ran into Shrine, the artist behind it, and I mumbled something about the “feeling” of the Temple emerging, that quiet, contemplative mood that will only get deeper when people start to bring out their own mementos, and you’ll look at the pictures and read the stories and your heart will ache. But I think there was just too much happening for Shrine, too much still to happen, for that feeling to have taken hold for him.

Speaking of the Temple, the major structures seem pretty squared away, and now all the amazing decorative pieces are being welded and attached. But I did hear that there was a bit of a problem with the second level, something about “wobbling,” which you’d have to view as a negative. This is an unconfirmed report, but this is a blog, so I’m going to take that liberty for now. And the only reason I do it is because I also heard that after some thought about keeping the second level off limits (not really a good option), an engineer arrived and figured out the way to make it all rock solid. So off we go.

The opening is really pressing down upon the city. It doesn’t feel “early” anymore. Trailers and camps are being planted everywhere. It feels impossibly crowded to me now, after all the open space of the past couple of weeks.

It’s only taken one year of being up here early to turn me into one of those people who doesn’t want anyone else to come. It’s gotten crowded enough, thank you very much. Lock the gates now. I LIKE being able to wander around and actually randomly run into someone I know, even if I don’t know all that many people.

Like last night. The bright lights and banners flapping in the fairly light breeze drew me over to Center Camp for a walk-through. It’s at the point where I can’t really comprehend the changes anymore. It’s probably trite and tired for anyone who’s done this before, but for me the amazement is very fresh. Where there was nothing, now there’s everything.

Andi works the high wire on the boom
Roo works the high wire on the boom

Anyway, after walking around for a little while I was headed back to my little patch of dust when Lexi came up in a golf cart and asked, “What are you doing?” and I said “Not that much. Processing photos.” So we took a little ride in her cart and tried to find the Burners Without Borders party, but when we got there everybody was already asleep. (There really are two kinds of Burners: Those who sleep at night, and those who don’t.) So we bumped and rattled across the dust, just cruising. The Man was lit, beautiful neon work glowing in the darkness. It was kind of funny, though, because it looked like he was shirt-cocking: His head and torso were lit, but his legs were dark.

Then we wandered over to Kate Raudenbush’s beautiful Altered States, bathed in white light. And as we stood there talking and laughing with some of the people working on the project, a glowing jellyfish art car with a blaring sound system pulled up, and three or four people got out and started doing a dervish dance around the piece. And as we stood to the side watching the guy with the Afro and the woman with the flowing clothes dance around the cage, we thought, now there’s the archetypal Burning Man mash-up: amazing art, and a bunch of ravers. (And yes, I know it’s not that simple, but it was a pretty perfect juxtaposition.) ,

Keeping the communications channels clear is a never-ending task
Keeping the communications channels clear is a never-ending task

So we hung out for a little longer, then she dropped me back off near Center Camp, because she gets up at 6 every day to make sure everything is functioning at the Commissary. (About 600 people are eating there every day now, and the task is just huge.) This was around midnight, and Center Camp was still completely buzzing with workers.

This morning you could see that they’ve turned it into a refuge from the sun and wind, and it’s a fine place to kick back and watch the parade of Burners for awhile.
There’s no coffee yet, but there are a whole lot of espresso machines waiting for you. So you don’t have to make that run to get a bag of Blue Bottle if you don’t have time. Cross that off the list.

Not all the picket fences are white in the year of American Dream
Not all the picket fences are white in the year of American Dream

Other things to think about as you make your final preparations: Go to your pile of clothes. Now cut it in half. You won’t wear them all. Also, the food? You can reduce that by say, oh, a third. You’re not going to eat it all. People are going to feed you. You’re going to have pizza and ice cream and Tenderloin and Thai food and fine chocolate put in front of you, most unexpectedly, and it’s going to be the most delicious thing imaginable. So make things simple for yourself today as you go crazy trying to get ready.

Here’s what you can’t have too much of: fluids (water water water, plus the energy drink of your choice. Forgive me, but I’ve come to the realization that a cold Coca Cola is the thing that works best at reviving me. I don’t drink a lot of Coke normally. Here, I think about it too much). Sunscreen. Moisturizer. Handiwipes (but don’t put them in the Porta Potties). Shade. A place to sit. And maybe it’s because I’ve been tethered to a radio for so long, but now walkie-talkies seem like kind of a good thing to have here. But maybe not.

But the main thing is, just get here. Forget what I said earlier about wanting to lock the gates. It’s not a party till you get here.

Ullas's sign will be there when you get here
Ullas's sign will be there when you get here

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

18 thoughts on “final prep

  • more pictures please. the more i see the more excited I become… with the larger city plan and the shaky economy, will the streets and camping areas be noticeably less congested? arrived Thursday morning last year and it was difficult to find a place, although our RV provided an great wind shield for the campers next to us during the intense dust storms…. i hope we have another triple rainbow!!

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  • thank you thank you thank you, reading the blog has given me and i’m sure many others the view and energy we are about to explode with. It’s inspiration to read and see all the many changes happening to our amazing city. thank you
    XOXOXOXOXOXO

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  • Thanks so much for writing this blog. This will only be my second year at Burning Man — and I find this, “behind the scenes” look at it totally fascinating. It makes me truly appreciate the hundreds of people who are out on the playa weeks or months in advance helping to put together such a miraculous place!

    A hearty thanks to you — and to everyone who is out there right now busting ass to put this together!

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  • darn you and your beautiful blog! this entry caused me to well up more than a little. it’s getting harder each day knowing the pilgrimage has begun and i’ve still got days to go. i know i must be patient. it’s well worth the wait. and in the meantime i get to see it all through your eyes. a million thanks.

    counting the days . . .
    xoxo

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  • after a 6 year hiatus from BRC, reading this blog reminds me of why i wanted to finally come again this year. and now i’m bursting at the seams to come!! aie!! can it please be 24 hours later so i can be there celebrating with you! :) thanks for all your hard work making it a great time for all of us too, and i’ll be hoisting a red bull one of these dawns in your honor —- Jojo

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  • Thanks for posting. My attendance this year is almost
    entirely virtual (I sent some artifacts to help with camp),
    so a slice of burning time committed to words is very
    valuable.

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  • I have been so sad feeling like I really need to be home! I am in an intense accelerated nursing program which is preventing me from attending this year and I am so homesick! It is great to hear about home and see the pictures, I sat in my bikram class last night pretending I was so hot and sweaty because I was in the desert and thanks to you I could really feel like I was! On the plus side, next year I can work in the med tent and contribute in a way that I really love!! Thank you so much!!!!!!

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