Grab some shade

Think about the jobs you might not want to do in the desert.  Pounding posts? Digging trenches? How about cooking over a hot grill?

Sure, none of that is much fun. But how about a job where you don’t get to spend any time in the shade, but you have to make sure other people have plenty of it? That’s what the shade crew does, and that’s the essential irony of the job: You make the shade, and then you leave it.

And then you do it again.

You do it about 90 times, actually. Two seven-person crews work for a month, putting up  shade they likely will never enjoy.

Not too long ago, shade duty was a really crappy assignment. That’s where they put the people nobody wanted to deal with.

But back in 2005, a core group got together and decided that really wasn’t the way they wanted to do things. So they re-thought the process, put some good leaders in charge, and changed the culture. Quiet Earp is the person in charge now, and Art, the crew leader yesterday, was around for the change, too.

And they not only changed the people, they changed the process, too. They made the shade structures simpler to build (although it’s still no walk in the park). All of them are based on a basic 12-foot x 12-foot version, which requires nine 12-foot 4×4’s to be sunk 30 inches into the ground. Then kickers and top boards are screwed on, and then the whole thing is covered with tarp that is hammered into place.

Ok, so the process is easier. But it’s not easy.

The biggest shade that the crews will build will go over Playa Info, and it will measure 60×48. On Wednesday, one crew took the truck, Priscilla, out to the Gate. They were there to put up shade so that you won’t have to stand in the blazing sun when you pick up your ticket.

It was a tight-knit group. Most of the seven people there had been working shade for the past several years, so they didn’t have to bother with the niceties of new acquaintanceship. The comments flew fast and furious. Lewdness counted. But the work never stopped.

“It’s hard, but we do it,” Art said. “And we thrust our chests out a little bit, too, because we get it done.”

Toad was on loan from the electrical crew, so of course he became the day’s target. Xeno, who’s been part of the build since 2002, took to calling him Frog. Toad was on the shade crew last year, and when his electrical team got the day off today, he decided to work with his old crew.

Montreal, Dani and Nice are veterans, but this is Eve’s first year, although you’d never know it. Talk about fitting in. She seems to have gotten it, right from the start.

“I like the fact that we’re working hard enough to earn that beer at the end of the day,” she said.

Toad was back for the day
Xeno checked in from deep in the Black Hole

At the end of every job, the last task is to nail a beer can somewhere in the structure.

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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