8-9-10

It was an auspicious number that marked the date for the fence this year.

Eight, nine, ten.

We’re not much into numerology, but we get as big a kick as anyone when the numbers line up so neatly. There’s another one coming up in October, too. Ten ten ten. 10/10/10. And that happens to be the date for SF Decompression, but jeez we’re getting way ahead of the story. Because we are at the beginning of the beginning again, and there’s so much to look forward to.

For a lot of Burning Man workers, 8/9/10 was the first big day in the desert. We don’t mean to disparage or overlook the people who’ve been here in Gerlach, for … what? Two and half weeks already? Coyote has been here, and Logan, and Makeout Queen, and Playground, and Dominic, and a handful of others.

But it’s beginning again for everyone today. As Playground said this morning, “Live it, love it, breath it.”

And that’s what you have to do for the next three weeks. You have to live, love and breathe the Burning Man, and you have to do the things that need to get done so that the Black Rock Desert is ready for the 45,000 or so people who will come to feel the spirit, see the art, dance in the desert and burn the Man.

And in the most public way, it all starts with the fence.

The logic is simple. You need to put up a temporary fence that will catch the trash that no doubt will be blown out of place by the blinding windstorms that will rake across the playa and turn your nice new Coleman tent into prayer flags.

But then the logic quickly breaks down, because really, there’s no doubt about it, there are lots of easier ways to put up a fence than to pound approximately 1,600 five-foot long metal stakes into the hard desert floor BY HAND, every 25 feet for seven and half miles. That’s the circumference of the event this year, seven and half miles. But you’re not done yet. After you pound the stakes, you have to hang plastic rope between the stakes, so you have something onto which to tie the trash fence. And you tie the trash fence onto the rope that connects the stakes with …. oh, about 31,680 pieces of string (figuring 20 pieces of string for every 25 feet) and … well, you get the idea. It’s a bear.

And no one could be happier about it.

In fact, the people at the front of the line kicking out the rolls of trash fence looked like they were doing a Can-Can, arm in arm as they danced their way across the hot and VERY windy desert floor.

The people who were pounding the stakes got FASTER as the day grew longer. They did the whole thing in double time, and when the finish was in sight, they were SPRINTING to grab the final stakes.

The first crews were out on the playa by 5:30 in the morning, hoping to avoid the worst of the midday heat. So if you showed up at Bruno’s restaurant for breakfast at 6:30, the normal time to start the day around here, feeling pretty good about yourself because you moved heaven and earth to make it, well, too bad, you were too late. You didn’t get to be one of the first people on the playa this year. Hell, if Porn Star had driven through the night for 10 hours straight to make it on time, what was your excuse?

So that’s what’s going on here in the little town of Gerlach, and out on the Black Rock desert. The family is gathering again at the place they like to call home, and they’ve showed up, as they always do, very ready to work.

You’d think people might get jaded about it by now. It’s been happening for 25 years. Twenty five years since Baker Beach, and 20 years out here in the desert.

And of course the event has changed. It’s huge, it’s governed, and if you ask 10 people why they come, you’ll get 10 different reasons. The radical self-reliance and appreciation for the absurd? Nah, it’s about the DJs. The creative energy and mutually encouraged self-expression? Nah, it’s just fun to watch stuff burn.

Whatever. We think that we shouldn’t approach whatever this is with beginner’s mind, because we’ve been around it a little bit now. But once you’re here, and you feel so many people pulling in the same direction, trying to make something happen that you can’t quite articulate but that you know moves you toward what you sense is good and worthwhile and beneficial and liberating, well, your eyes DO grow wide again, almost in spite of yourself.

So it’s exactly the same this year, and of course very different, too. The desert is different, that’s for sure. It has rained the past two nights, and there were puddles along Main Street this morning. The desert looks greener, like the great dying-off that happens in the heat hasn’t quite happened yet. There are wild sunflowers along Route 447, ferchrissakes.

But two things are the same: You can’t explain whatever this is, and you have to work to make it happen.

Oh, and one other thing’s the same, too: It’s good to be back.

Coyote's wrist showed the worse for wear at the end of the day

If you're going to keep up with Just George, who runs the fence operation, you better get up early.

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.

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