Fun and games? Not really.

Where the paths crossed in the desert

People rolled in to the breakfast meeting on Tuesday morning  looking pretty good, all things considered. Logan was conducting business, and he congratulated everyone for the fine job they did the day before. “You finished nine miles of fence yesterday, and that’s amazing and awesome. … And now you may be asking yourself, what the hell do I do now?”

It was a fair question. There’s a high that comes along with finishing such a gargantuan task as the fence, and doing it with people who are laughing and hollering and happy to see each other again. It’s all fresh and new and adventurous and beautiful and romantic.

And then comes the next day. What do we do now?

Logan’s answer came quickly: “The crew lists are on the pool table outside,” he told the packed crowd at Bruno’s. Everyone could see what work crew they’d been assigned to: Power, Center Cafe, Fluffer, Heavy Machinery, Gate and all the rest of them. Of course there’s a lot of borrowing of people now, as the skill sets of the various crews get sorted out. There’s a chemistry that has to happen, too, or the operations can go south real quick.

And being told to check the crew lists is maybe another way of saying, boys and girls, this ain’t no summer camp you signed up for. Yesterday was hard, but it had a high. Today’s going to be hard, too. But it’s the start of the grind. The hot dusty grind for the next three weeks that are going to help you find out some things about yourself, and maybe some of them you won’t like so much.

Because believe me, for every shenanigan, for every caper, there’s a whole lot of hours doing things that aren’t much fun at all. And at the end of the day you don’t go back home and chill in front of the TV. You go back to your camp or hit the trailer and maybe try to squeeze in a shower if you time it right and there aren’t 10 people ahead of you.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re fortunate to be here. It’s one of the most  profound ways of giving back to this Burner  community. But I’m telling you, it ain’t easy.

There’s a thermometer on the wall in the Depot. It’s in a window, true, but it’s in the shade. At around 5 pm yesterday, it read 110 degrees. Try unloading a truck in that.

Everyone who comes here has to sign a waiver. If something bad happens, well, this thing says that you knew beforehand that things could go wrong. That started back in 1998, and there was a gallows humor about  it. The folks back then called it the Death Waiver. They made up a rock band called D.A. and the Death Waivers. But it’s not really funny, and everyone knows  it.

People come and go from the DPW. Some people have been here it seems like since the beginning, and some people are here for the first time. And some of the people you wish had come back aren’t here. Sometimes the people decide on their own not to return, and sometimes the decision gets made for them.  That’s the way it goes. Just like real life.

So yeah, there are some amazing things that take place out here: like when the evening sky lights the hills in a thousand shades of pink and purple. Or when you hit a rough patch and there’s someone there to pick you up in a way you didn’t expect, or in a way you didn’t even know you needed.

But there’s only one way to earn those highs: you have to go through the lows. And there are plenty of them ahead. So don’t let your mind get too filled with ideas of finding love and glory in the desert. Because it’s true here maybe more than anywhere else: no matter where you go, there you are.

Ok, enough from your cranky uncle. You really just want the pictures, so let’s get to them.

We have a theme today: things out of place.

This whole city-in-the-desert thing is completely incongruous. It doesn’t make any sense. And it makes even less sense in these early days, when the playa isn’t really an open space anymore. We’re only a couple of days in, but there is a LOT of stuff out here already. There have been heavily loaded semis roaring out from the Work Ranch, where the stuff is stored, onto the Black Rock Desert. It takes a lot of gear to get ready for 50,000 people, and a lot of it is here already.

So here’s a look at some of the things that have been plopped here, where they don’t seem to belong.


And one more photo, and it’s of a personal nature, so indulge me for a moment. … I was given a new Playa name this morning: Headshot. … I’m not sure who shouted it out at the morning meeting, but the inspiration for it was my unfortunate run-in with a stake pounder on fence day:

It looked bad, but it wasn't.



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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