Volunteers are swarming all over the Center Cafe, transforming the massive, utilitarian tent in the center of the city into a space that both shelters and entertains participants. That it is also the place to get a jolt of caffeine at any time, day or night, also makes it an essential part of the Burning Man experience.
This year’s event is themed Metropolis, and many of the decorative touches in the Cafe have an urban feel to them. Rigging wires are being covered in what looks like pipe, there are flags that look like clothelines, and the space is ringed with wooden burn barrels with fabric flames.
Dangerass, the volunteer coordinator for Cafe Decor, is in the center of it all, leading the volunteers with energy, enthusiasm and heart.
“Every year I say to myself, ‘Well, maybe this is the last year for me at Burning Man,’’’ she says. “Then I think about it, and I realize these are my peeps!”
She sweeps her arms around the Cafe, where a crew of about 40 people are putting up lights, painting stages, arranging carpet and myriad other things, getting ready for a really big party.
Much of the decor was made back in San Francisco, where recycled clothing and donated items were used as source materials at volunteer Decor parties. Then the effort moves to the desert, where the first item of business is to get all the stuff that is stored in trailers unloaded.
“We need brawn in the beginning and fluff in the end,” Dangerass said.
The Decor crew gets their share of muscle, both male and female, and it’s crucial. There are hundreds of yards of carpet to unload, and most of it has several years of playa dust covering it. And there’s enough other stuff to fill three semis and a shipping container, all of which must be broken down and laid out in the cafe.
And yet even with all the work, “This week is the best week of my life,” Dangerass says.
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.