And so it begins

opening-night-5-5So crazy Flash was behind the bar on the night the Gates opened, making up something he called Rocket Fuel, which involved pouring various liquids and liquors back and forth from one glass to another, adding ingredients and tasting along the way.

The result was a lethally smooth concoction, capable of knocking you off your feet even while you thought you were drinking nothing stronger than a spritzer.

Flash the mixologist
Flash the mixologist

It was Opening Night, and there was also a birthday to celebrate, and Flash behind the bar pretty much guarantees things will get raucous, so the elements came together smartly for the official  start of Burning Man 2009.

Around 11 pm,  people started lining up rides to get out to the gates to watch the people who’d come blasting in at midnight. It’s a funny tradition. On the night the gates open to the public, a  lot of the people who are already inside the city go out to greet the people who have been waiting for HOURS and HOURS to get inside.

opening-night-31Now when I say “greet,” that covers a lot of ground. Yes there  were some cheers and shouts of welcome,  but mostly there was lots of abuse. Funny stuff. People with megaphones informing the arrivals that this is a dust-free event. Telling them to slow down.  Oh, and they were told that they should be giving lots of beer to the people who’ve been building the city for them, too.

None of it mattered. The people streaming in were laughing and dancing and just happy to be here. One guy got out of his car, naked, and rolled around face down in the dust. The call went up in the stands for him to be body-cavity searched.

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Company’s coming

sun-aug-30-6

It was the day before the  gates would open, and all through the city, people were getting ready for the new arrivals. It was another day of this and that, and last-minute details. Who do we have to run out the Yellow Bikes? Who’s going to test the systems over at Arctica? Oh, and who is going to lay out the “you are here” signs at the major plazas? That would be us. So off we went, around and about, talking to people along the way, on the day before the event began.

That's just plain Mike in front of the solar panel at Snow Koan village, which provides 25kw of power to the Black Rock City grid, enough to power four camps, including Nectar Village and Comfort and Joy  out near E and 8. Surprisingly enough, Mike is a solar operations manager for Energy Efficiency Solar in the default world, and here he is doing his thing on the playa. Stop by in the afternoon, and they'll charge your iPod and give you a snowcone, too.
That's just plain Mike in front of the solar panel at Snow Koan village, which provides 25kw of power to the Black Rock City grid, enough to power four camps, including Nectar Village and Comfort and Joy out near E and 8. Surprisingly enough, Mike is a solar operations manager for Energy Efficiency Solar in the default world, and here he is doing his thing on the playa. Stop by in the afternoon, and they'll charge your iPod and give you a snowcone, too.

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The State of the ART

Three days before the event begins, I am most pleased to report to you that this year’s ART is sprouting up like playa fire flowers all around our beloved Black Rock City. Everywhere one hears the sounds of drills and hammers, grinders and heavy equipment and the white hot crackle of acetylene torches at night beneath huge floodlights. The communal unloading, lifting and erecting is moving forward full force. Some many crews of artists haven’t stopped working since they hit the playa.

In a post apocalyptic world, there is a difference between surviving and surviving in style. In our desolate lake bed, we are surviving very much in style.

I was able to pull myself away from the alternating working and cocktail parties to take a stroll around and visit with the artists and take in some of this year’s installations.

The Man on his Tangled Bank

The Man on his Tangled Bank

The Man is atop a Tangled Bank this year. A forest of nailed wooden organic shapes surround him and create a space we haven’t ever seen in the Man base. The trees, or flames, or crystals, or dancers or whatever they look like to you suggest a small homage to the Belgian Waffle of years past. Whatever it is, I like it and true to the theme, it’s definitely a fresh evolution of the Man’s surroundings.

Currently the lighting, including a double helix that winds around the Man pole, and other Evolutionary Mud bug sculptures are being installed below.

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Back to the garden

The Man stands tall in the heat and the dust, even as work continues around him
The Man stands tall in the heat and the dust, even as work continues around him

Maybe we have time today for a personal anecdote.

There are only a couple of days before it all changes here in Black Rock City. There’s a poignancy in the air, because one thing is just about finished, even as something much bigger is about to begin.

And so maybe people are a little thoughtful today. It’s been a long month. The work that began so amazingly on the 10th with the fence is coming to an end. It has to, because the event is about to start. The guests will arrive, whether it’s all ready or not. But it feels  ready.

And it has brought me back to a night 40 years ago, to a Friday night in August that I’ll never forget. My family used to spend time during the summer in upstate New York. We’d be up “at the lake” as we called it, a sleepy little area just outside of Brewster, New York. And on that Friday night in August, something very different was happening in the quiet little town.

There were vans and bells and hippies and tie-dye and ribbons and guitars and music, so much music. And thousands … THOUSANDS … of young people caravaning through the streets, stopping to buy ice cream and soda and other stuff. I’d never seen anything like it, and I had no idea what was happening.

What was happening was Woodstock.

A third level has been added to the Temple, where the pace was furious
A third level has been added to the Temple, where the pace was furious

Brewster was on the way to Woodstock, and the town was crawling with long-haired hippy guys and girls on their way to see Hendrix and Janis and the Doors and Joe Cocker and all the rest.  I hadn’t known about any of it, but all of a sudden it was right in front of me.

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Faces on the playa

Lex of the Nimby crew that build the Museum of Unnatural Selection
Lex of the Nimby crew that built the Museum of Unnatural Selection
Face was out at the Kill Station (where you get your gas) and noted how well-behaved the cat out there was. Of course, the cat there has been deceased for quite some time. It was found in a trailer. "It went in, but it didn't come out," Face said. "Smaaaart kitty."
Face was out at the Kill Station (where you get your gas) and noted how well-behaved the cat out there was. Of course, the cat had been deceased for quite some time. It was found in a trailer and is now known as "jerk kitty," because it's ... well, it's dried out. "It went in, but it didn't come out," Face said. "Smaaaart kitty."
You're right. This isn't a face. It's the stickers that were still on the coffee machines from last year when the Center Camp was being set up. By this time next week, there will be a whole new layer of them.
You're right. This isn't a face. It's the stickers that were still on one of the coffee machines from last year when the Center Camp was being set up. By this time next week, there will be a whole new layer of them.

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t g i f

So, a few words about playa conditions. In a word or two, they are not bad. Yes there are chunky areas. Yes there are areas that will force you off your bike. But in general, not bad at all. There is a surface crust of an inch or so in most places, with some patches, like the area above, a bit deeper than that. The surface is hard-packed right now, but obviously that's going to change when everyone gets here. Will there be dust? Yes there will be dust.
So, a few words about playa conditions -- they are not bad. Yes there are chunky areas. Yes there are areas that will force you off your bike. But in general, not bad at all. There is a surface crust of an inch or so in most places, with some patches, like the area above, a bit deeper than that. The surface is hard-packed right now, but obviously that's going to change when everyone gets here. Will there be dust? Yes there will be dust.

So maybe you’ve been reading about the people who have been building the city for you for the past several weeks, and maybe some of you have been kind enough to say stop on by when you get here and have a drink. That’s really awesome and great and appreciated, but you know what? You can help even more if you want to.

There will be dozens and dozens of people here for weeks AFTER the event, too, cleaning up after everyone. Yes, this is a “leave no trace” event, but … well … it doesn’t really work out that way. Lots of people leave lots of traces, and it takes a lot of work by the Playa Restoration Crew and others to get the playa back to the shape it was in before all this started.

So that’s where you come in. These people need simple things, like food and drink. Yes, people donate their leftover stuff on their way out of Burning Man, and that is very much appreciated. But you might even think about PLANNING to give some stuff to the DPW crew. You have to remember, they are the ones who have been out here busting their butts to make this thing happen, and they will be here for a long time afterward. And, like everyone else this year, they are having money troubles. So if you want to show your appreciation for their efforts, maybe do more than offer free drinks during the event. Drop off some good stuff and help them make it through the year. Thanks so much.

There was some doubt that the Thunderdome people were going to make it out to the event this year, but rest easy: They arrived Thursday night and are setting up the dome as we speak. And DPW fight night at the dome is Wednesday, so you might want to make a note of that.

Goat Man Dan of the Nimby crew, near the Museum of Unnatural Selection
Goat Man Dan of the Nimby crew, near the Museum of Unnatural Selection

The sculpture outside of Center Camp looks completely awesome, and it hasn’t even been fired up yet. It’s called the Museum of Unnatural Selection, and it’s the creation of the Oakland Nimby crew, specifically Goat Man Dan, Lex and Jen. They were putting on the finishing touches Friday, getting ready for their pyro inspection later in the day. (Yes, all the pieces and vehicles that involve fire have to pass an inspection. So you can tell your mom that everything is quite safe out here.)

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Ready, set …

The Man had a healthy glow in the early morning hours
The Man had a healthy glow in the early morning hours

Stuff is happening everywhere. The city gets thicker by the hour, art pops up where there wasn’t any before, the rocket ship seems ready for blastoff,  the last spire was placed on the playa, and somewhere, right now, no matter what time of the day or night you are reading this, someone is pounding a stake into the dust and trying to get their camp squared away.

At night now, the “WHOOSH”es are getting louder, as more and more propane-equipped playa vehicles shoot huge bursts of flames into the night sky. It shakes your timbers and rattles your bones, and it’s only just beginning.

The folks who have been here for awhile still have tons to do, because the big party starts in three days. (People will come streaming through the gates just past midnight on Sunday and, ready or not, we all will be launched.)  But the ones who have just arrived are doing the basics — the tent unfurling, the stake pounding, the carpet laying, the light hanging and all the hundreds of other things that need doing before it all gets done.

The last spire was planted in the playa on Thursday
The last spire was planted in the playa on Thursday

And if you’re not here yet, and that certainly means most of you, oh my god it’s all ahead of you. Maybe you’ve rented the RV and maybe you’ve bought the 20 gallons of water and maybe you’ve got the daytime and evening costumes all squared away. But then again, maybe not.

So there are a couple of strategies that it might be good to hear right now. First, and this is a new one for me, more than a few veteran Burners break up the trip into two days. Especially if you are driving from Southern California, but even from the Bay Area, it’s really not such a terrible idea to spend a night in Reno on the way in. Think of it as the last supper. (And maybe the last shower.) (more…)