Behind the Scenes: DPW/Gate Work Weekend at the Ranch

When people say “I could put on a Burning Man event, you just need to draw some roads and bring porta-potties, right?”, I wish they could see what happens behind the scenes. The amount of work that goes into the event is staggering, yet much of it is completely invisible to participants. Take for example, the work weekends up at the Burning Man Ranch that start in the spring and continue into summer.

Photo by Miranda von Stockhausen

I attended the last combined DPW/Gate work weekend for the year and, not having a particular task to do, was adopted by Gate.

I spent much of the day in the warm desert sun, painting steps. From my central location, I got to watch the busy hum of activity in the common shop area, as well as a small crew building a small “shack” (which was remarkably well-constructed for something called a shack). I overheard one of the construction managers say to a volunteer: “We don’t care about getting this done fast. We want it to be good.”

That statement proved to be true for everything I came across that weekend. The amount of care and detail that went into these projects initially amazed me, but then made so much sense. Burning Man is a city created from the ground up, exactly to our specifications, according to our whims and desires. It’s insane to build a city just to tear it down again, so why not build one filled with art, and constructed with love and care in every detail?

Burning Man is our city. The pride in ownership by the crew I met at the work weekend was plain to see, but it was not a possessive pride. Rather, it was the sort of effort and care that says “I am building you a gift, and I want you to love it too.” For example: The DPW work crew built out an amazingly beautiful and functional multi-room office trailer for the Gate staff, with recycled mural panels carefully chosen and arranged on the walls. DPW went the extra mile with this, thoughtfully preserving art panels from last year’s exterior Cafe wall for this cost-saving (and aesthetically-enhancing!) re-use.

Miranda and Kristy from Gate, painting the trim in their new office trailer

The Gate staff loved it, and spent all Saturday carefully painting the trim and caulking the seams and nail holes until it was smooth and even more beautiful. No one else will notice these tiny details, but they will know, each time they use that carefully crafted space. The intention counts.

Long before participants show up to the event, DPW is out there, building the city, installing infrastructure that they’ve worked on for months in advance: from office space built inside shipping containers and trailer trucks, down to the hand-painted street signs. All the hundreds of things that happen behind the scenes to make Burning Man run smoothly and seem effortless to outside eyes.

Enormous numbers of people are required to make Burning Man the event it is. Some of them year-round at headquarters in San Francisco, some seasonal, some just on-playa. Everyone involved in making Burning Man happen does it because they love it, because it gets inside them. And that’s a magical thing. You can feel it. Everyone feels it. Burning Man is different. It makes people want to give back and be a part of it, in this weird, self-perpetuating engine of chaos and sweat and communal effort and participation.

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Brody works in the Art Department. You can find her at http://twitter.com/BrodyQat or at the ARTery on-playa if you want a hug.

About the author: Brody

Brody is a native Californian and recovering shy person who enjoys hugs, snacks and increasing the amount of happiness in the world. She is slightly internet-famous for creating the Desaturated Santa costume for SantaCon, and is glad to be known for something that's not horribly embarrassing or illegal. Brody first attended Burning Man in 2004 and found out that she doesn't actually know how to relax for an entire week. A volunteer with Greeters since 2005, she now sneaks in Greeter shifts before or after her regular on-playa job, making magic happen behind the scenes at the ARTery. Year-round Brody can be found in the Art Department wrangling data, creating order from chaos, and feeding her co-workers homemade marshmallows.

14 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: DPW/Gate Work Weekend at the Ranch

  • i’ll never forget how the gate crew stole a bottle of patron from the back of my panel van. when the gate crew is crawling through your stuff looking for stowaways, etc – NEVER take your eyes off of them.

    they work in pairs, and the lady asked me to walk back to the cab while a guy was rummaging through my stuff. i never thought i’d get ripped off like this. the bottle of patron was the last thing i purchased and it was sitting out in the open in a box. i don’t even drink that much, and i was saving it for saturday night.

    when i got to camp – GONE!

    that’s a fact, jack!

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  • Let’s not forget how DPW feels entitled to the belongings of any citizen, particularly their alcohol and beer.

    I witnessed DPW (during the parade) pluck beer out of a man’s cooler. When he confronted them, they beat him and pushed him down, then trashed part of his camp, yelling “we built this city!”

    You’re janitors, DPW. Nothing more because collectively you’re not smart enough. You’re grunts that do what you’re told. You build NOTHING!

    So get ready to clean up our fucking messes again. And if you try to steal stuff around me, one or more of you hipsters will be taking the helicopter ride to Reno.

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  • i’m pretty much over hearing “without them there’s no burning man”. that doesn’t mean they deserve an inflated sense of entitlement or justify any form of rudeness or thievery.

    what about everybody else? without everybody else there’d be no burning man.

    that said, i’ve had no problems with any of them, though i’ve heard stories.

    but yes. party on indeed :)

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  • @Motz: Work Weekends are for the crew only (not open to the general public). If you’re a part of Gate or DPW or another team that needs to be up there, your crew leaders will inform you of work weekends.

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  • i just wanna give a big shout out to all the members of the DPW and Gate Crews for all of the wonderful work that they all do! I do a lot of work on the road all over the country and don’t have a lot of time to plan for the Burn each year or else I would love to do what I could to help out building our great city.
    I try to stay until most of the masses leave the city and have had the displeasure of being harassed by DPW members to get the f*$k out. I understand where they are coming from after living out there for such a long time dealing with lame ass virgins that have no respect. I stay because i fucking hate traffic!
    If any one of you guys can find NoNo Bar your welcome to join me for a drink. Seriously I mean no harm.

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  • To you groovy peoples. I would like to request to volunteer my God given skills. I am what is called a mill-wright tech. Machine tool maint tech by trade, eletrical, pnumatics, hydraulics, fabrication, welding, machinist, auto machenic rebuilt classics, plumbing, carpentry. I’am full time employed but can take two weeks at a time vacation even three. Let me know if I can help. I have not attended an event yet, but will soon. I look at your web page frequently, great job. I’am going to order the book. Keep the spirit of mans need to express him-self, and to marvel and laugh at each other. Mario Your Friendly Neighborhood Maint Tech.

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  • I have to say I’ve had the same experience. A DPW guy was belligerently screaming at me in the street in front of my camp because I wouldn’t respond to his advances (I just wasn’t interested give a girl a fucking break). I decided to just jump on my bike to ride off and give him some time to chill out and he ran after me and pulled me off my bike! WTF.

    I fucking love you guys but that isn’t cool… my knee was seriously messed up for the rest of the week and that was on Tuesday.

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