Raising the roof

The Commissary tent went up yesterday,  and the DPW crew will soon be taking their three squares a day there.

The raising of the tent is the biggest communal work effort after the fence. An all-hands radio call went out just after breakfast; it was time to get this sucker up.

Like so many things (and people) out here, the tent has a checkered past. Back in the late ’90s, it was owned by a truly raucous  traveling show, Copper Lingus (if I got the name right).  Hayseed, who runs the Commissary, was talking about the things that went on there, and Burning Man sounded like Sunday School in comparison. Wild. Crazy. And now pretty hazy. It sounded a little like the  ’60s; if you could remember them, you weren’t really there.

The tent is a bit of an anachronism these days. It’s decidedly old school, and more than a little tattered around the edges. A crew spent the better part of Tuesday morning patching holes in the canvas. Meanwhile,  the catering service on the playa, Spectrum, had their four huge pop-up tents squared away by Tuesday afternoon, with a crew of  only four doing the heavy lifting.

D.A. working on his mad sledgehammer skills

The Commissary tent, in contrast, needs as many people to put up as you can muster. Stakes and rebar need to be pounded, the four center poles have to be positioned in place with the help of a sledgehammer, and four or five people need to be pulling for all they’re worth to maintain tension before each of the tie-downs can be knotted. It’s a bear.

It’s a funny thing about eating in the Commissary: there is always bacon. Every morning, bacon. This is not a bad situation, and a point of pride for Shelly. “Bacon’s my thing,” she said. The other morning, while she was out on the playa and the bacon was being cooked at Bruno’s back in Gerlach, she said she could smell it. “I thought they were screwing with me!” she said. “Did someone bring some kind of spray out here?” But no, it was just that the wind was right and she could pick up the scent a good seven miles away.

It’s the second year for Spectrum at Burning Man. It’s a Texas firm, and Shelley says this event has become her favorite. “It’s about the people,” she said. “Other places, people load up their plates and they wind up throwing half their food away. … Here, there isn’t a scrap left. And they’re all shy when they ask if they can have more. Of course you can! That’s what it’s there for!”

The affection is mutual. Last year at the end of the event, some DPW folks made up a poster and everyone signed it to show how much they loved Shelley and her crew. “That’s on my wall right now,” she said. “It’s why I’m back. I love it here.”

We love you too, Shelley. And not just for the bacon.

You have to pull hard on the tent lines to get the tension you need to tie them down. You don't want the tent to start flapping when the wind is howling.


It isn't the Build if Photo Mike isn't swinging a sledge.


One of the most back-breaking tasks is getting the tent poles to stand up straight.


Still a little fine adjusting to do ...

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.

9 thoughts on “Raising the roof

  • Bacon seemed to be the unofficially official food of the event last year. I heard all sorts of mention of bacon, and stumbled across several camps cooking the stuff. The best one was where a whole camp’s members were gathered around frying and passing around “burn barrel bacon” on the lid of their burn barrel with pineapple, at like about midnight.

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  • This oft repeated phrase that “if you remember the sixties you weren’t there” needs to be repudiated. The sixties that I lived through will never leave me, and that’s a good thing. Felt like I’d gone to the edge of the Universe and beyond. And I remember every moment of the ride. More like “If you forgot the sixties you weren’t really there”. We very much took Dr. Tim’s campaign slogan to “Tune In, Turn On and Drop Out” to heart. Its worked well.

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  • It is an honor to be witness to the building of BRC! Thanks for the text and pictures!! The amazing process of building the city is the most inspirational thing for me about Burning Man! The great pioneering spirit is alive and well in Nevada.

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