August 6th, 2012  |  Filed under Building BRC

The Big Bang

August 6th, 2012  |  Filed under Building BRC

The first fence crews started gathering well before dawn Monday morning, even as the smoke from nearby forest fires still lingered in the desert air. Spoono and his group would have chow and coffee for everyone who would be spending the next ten hours or so working in the desert heat.

There were stakes to pound and a fence to put up. Trucks would be rumbling from the highway to the playa, dropping containers and generators and all manner of stuff all over the desert floor. The Man Base crew would be hauling gear and the pieces they’d been working on at the ranch for the last three weeks. The vendor’s Commissary tents would be going up, and the Artica and Power teams would be staking out their turf and counting their inventory.

It was the first big day in the building of Black Rock City for 2012, and it was going off big time, everywhere and all at once.

You have to be up for this job, up to the task of building a city for 60,000 out of … nothing. Just as you have to be radically self-reliant for your own needs when you get to Burning Man, the people who put on the event have to bring everything that’s needed from somewhere else to make it all happen. It’s a big job, and you have to be ready for it. You have to be up for it. You have to be inspired, even.

Maybe a little of the inspiration had come a day before.

Just George gave directions in the morning

The first thing you have to understand is that most of the managers and crew chiefs of Burning Man hate meetings, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Still, the day before the big build started, it made sense to get status reports from  all the department heads and crew chiefs who are responsible for all the pieces that have to fall into place the right way and at the right time.

And so there they all were, chased by the wind and the threat of dust from the Water Tower Park in Gerlach across the street to the Black Rock Saloon. About 40 people sat at the picnic table benches in the back room and took turns updating each other about the roads, the water, the power, the fence, the radios, the food …. the list went on. It was a Sunday afternoon, the next morning would come awfully early, and there might have been a little drudgery in the air.

But then the mood began to change. Some managers talked about what to expect from their people this year. They acknowledged that it had been a tough year; that there were more than a few friends who had been lost. There had been professional changes, too, and maybe not all of them had worked exactly according to plan. And they said that it was important to watch how their people were handling things. They might be looking at the event as a release from the pain, as one of the things that would help them process all that had happened. The stakes were high. ..  But one thing was clear: being in each other’s company was a solace.  “I look at you all and it makes me want to cry,” one manager said. And she had tears in her eyes when she said it.

Plenty of pounding, plenty early

So that was the tenor of the room when Marian started to speak. Marian Goodell, aka Maid Marian, aka JackRabbit, aka Meow, one of the Burning Man founders and a person at the very heart of the event, and a person at the very center of the challenges that the organization had faced this year.

She’d come to Gerlach on a lighting trip of 24 hours to be here for the start of Black Rock City. And when she started to talk, she didn’t try to sugarcoat the year’s problems. She looked around the room and thanked the people who had been with her for so many years, and she talked about all that had been done to save the event, to keep it welcome for the people who had made it what it is.  “Don’t believe everything that you read or hear,” she said. “Don’t believe the numbers about what percent [of attendees] are going to be newcomers.”

And then she talked about moving forward.

“I’ve had to decide that it’s going to be a really really good year,” she said. “People feel down and overwhelmed, but you are all the bellwethers. … When it comes off for you, it comes off like … bang! For everyone!” I may not be doing this justice, because what she said, and the way she said it, didn’t come off as rah-rah or Pollyanna. There was no false bravado, just a very endearing humility and gratitude. And the room seemed to hear her.

So now we are on the desert floor as the first light of morning is beginning to reach over the hills. And everything is going to start with the fence. Once the fence is up, there’s an inside and an outside to Black Rock City, as somebody put it. This was the day to establish the perimeter.

The fence crews, and the stake pounders in particular, get a lot of the attention, and rightfully so. It’s not often that nine miles of fence gets put up in a single day, in the heat of the desert. And there was more rallying to be done.

Just George is the tough-talking, drill-sergeant-type ex-military guy who directs the fence operation. He was giving directions in the predawn light. “Do I have to tell you how to line up in two rows??” he was barking, but he wasn’t really fooling anyone with the tough-guy act. He loves his “troops,” and his troops love him back, and they indulge him the histrionics.

Starchild directing folks to the next station

Nico Peaches and Starchild were his lieutenants this day, and they gave last-minute admonitions  about staying hydrated and pounding safely. The pounding is a big job. About 2,000 stakes are driven into the  baked playa surface, and the pounders do it  with prehistoric metal devices that weigh about as much as a small car. These are dangerous items – if you’re not careful, you can conk yourself or your partner and leave a good-sized dent. And even though you’ve wrapped your fingers with protective tape and put on heavy gloves, if  you’re not careful the metal beasts will blister your flesh in the time it takes to drive one stake home.

It’s a hard job, and you’ve got to be motivated to do it.

The veteran pounders get the job done with an economy of motion that they’ve learned the hard way. “I saw a video from back in 2002 or so,” DA was saying, “and I couldn’t believe how [unnecessarily] hard I was working.”   He was walking with a pounder slung on his shoulders as casually as if he were out for a morning stroll.  After he slipped the pounder onto the stake,  he took maybe ten pounds or so to drive it into the ground. Then he sauntered on.

Fluffer Nips and her crew doing the very unglamorous work of making sure that everyone had what they needed – water, snacks, sunscreen, a smile.

Fluffer Nipps

After the pounders had moved out, another wave of workers moved out from Gerlach and started laying out rolls of trash fence and tying it to the stakes. The work doesn’t move as quickly as the pounding, and a lot of it is done in the heat of the day.

At the back of one of the supply trucks, a small group was doing another highly unglamorous task – cutting rolls of nylon rope into foot-long lengths, so that they could be used to tie the fence to the stakes. The cutting implements left a LOT to be desired, so it was more like a sawing action to get through the nylon rope. The thing was, the crews needed string. A lot of string. Like, 30,000 pieces of string, give or take.

(Here’s how we got that figure, and you can check our math: There were about 2,000 stakes that were pounded into the ground. Three pieces of string were used to tie the fence to each stake, and twelve more pieces of string were used to tie the fence to the three strings between each stake.  So, 2,000 x 3 plus 2,000 x 12  = 30,000. Like we said, a lot of string.)

In the end, for those of you keeping score at home, the pounding was finished before 9 in the morning, and the whole fence was done before 3 in the afternoon. “Did we set a record?” someone asked. We don’t know, and we don’t honestly care. It was just an amazing thing to watch.

When it was all done, there were beers handed out, and Just George got a cooler of water dumped on him, and people found shade where they could and enjoyed their cool beverages.

In a half hour, they had all scattered, off to their various crews and various tasks. They had done what they could to get things off with a bang.

And we bring you … the fence

A whole lotta tying going on

Just kicking it

Plenty of playa, plenty of fence

Panda Rat, getting it done

Double trouble

Some people can handle the pounders better than others

The team that brought you the fence

51 Responses to “The Big Bang”

  1. lp Says:

    heck. yeah.

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  2. TKO Says:

    <3 <3 <3 to all you fuckers.

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  3. Genie Says:

    Major cheers to the fence crew. Major cheers to EVERYONE who’s putting in so much time and effort to make this happen. I agree with Marian — this is going to be a very good year. :-)

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  4. Belle Says:

    Thank you DPW for gettin’ er’ done!

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  5. Homiesinheaven Says:

    thank you, you glorious bastards.

    eeeek, look at all that soft playa! newbies and folks from last year who think this is a walk in the park are in for a rude awakening. ;)

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  6. Tashi Says:

    best post yet, thanks JC!

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  7. Summer Says:

    Aw. This post makes me miss setup. Almost. ::takes second shower of the day after jumping in the River:: Can’t wait to see you fuckers in a couple weeks.

    RIP Joey Jello… we’re going to miss you like hell this year. Please watch over us, flying like a Freebird, and wipe us out with a good dust devil during the DPW parade if you can. xo

    Who wants SOCKS from Reno?!?


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  8. Cooky Says:

    Thank you for building Black Rock City! Thank you!

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  9. Ian K Says:

    Thanks for being out in the dust getting this infrastructure up. The burn is what you make it, see you on playa!

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  10. Tex Allen Says:

    Fuck YES to everyone on that crew! There’s few people I respect more than the engineers of our fine City!

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  11. DL Says:

    It’s been said many times already, but… THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU SO MUCH. You guys are the (extremely dusty) wind beneath our wings.

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  12. Capt DLW Says:

    Hell Ya. Thanks builders! You rock at Black Rock!

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  13. Smackie Says:

    Thank you, fence crew! I look forward to patrolling the perimeter you fine people set up. See you in 18 days!

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  14. Pocket Nancy Says:

    Thank you for the inspiring post. It has been a hard year. But I look forward to celebrating life, faith, and trust in the universe with all of you!

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  15. Passion Fruit Says:

    Thanks Fence crew. Can’t wait to see what is contained within!

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  16. Sir Gigglesworth Says:


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  17. elektra fyin Says:

    so ace! so excited!!!
    thank you you awesome people x

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  18. Tom Varden Says:

    Great shots, Mr. Curley!

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  19. PillowTalk Says:

    thanks for sharing the love.
    see you in a quick shake of a rat tail

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  20. Topless Deb Says:

    Well done amazing crew.

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  21. 255 Says:

    Thank you all! It’s beautiful! The best fence in the Universe !!!

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  22. Issimo Says:

    Stand strong oh, ye orange border of the city of dust. That we may be protected from the…. ah, screw it.

    Thanks people!

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  23. Dani Says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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  24. Radar Says:

    Thank you for the hard work…..its too bad we even need a fence.

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  25. Jennifer Says:

    I love it! Wish I was there helping!! I will try to find a way to make that happen in the future, I promise!!

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  26. Potter Says:


    Reading this made my day. Can't wait to get home. Thanks for all the hard work.

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  27. Kimberly Says:

    You rock, fence crew!!! Thank you and much love to you all!!!

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  28. Skadoosh! Says:


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  29. Schwabs Says:

    All Hail the Fence Crews! (photos are rad, too!)

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  30. Mary Says:

    wow, pounding fence holes is gruesomely hard work! thanks with tlc

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  31. Audio Kitty Says:

    YOU GUYS ROCK!!!!!

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  32. dbag Says:

    What is it about this post that makes us all want to use expletives? Anyway, you all fucking rock. <3

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  33. Otterpop Says:

    Thank you fence team!! Yippee!

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  34. otter romp Says:

    Thank you <3

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  35. Z Diver Says:

    Great photos, awesome relation of Marian. She made me cry last year.

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  36. Madmatt Says:

    Thank you so much to all you roughnecks!!! We will make a Burn that is worthy of your efforts.

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  37. Nadinski Schmetterling Says:

    yay fence!! =cheering on=

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  38. Lynx Says:

    I have always admired this crew and their incredible energy and roar they must bring!

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  39. harinama Says:

    Fuck yeah, good work perimeter crew, BRC is coming together!!!

    Damn, i’m starting to get excited!!!

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  40. Spaceman Says:

    Fucking badasses, all of yous.

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  41. chickpea Says:

    this was great to read, i so honored to be part of this amazing family & truly has brought sooo much love and color to the world …thanks you guys for starting the city for us ….. xo Chickpea

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  42. Wilsons MOM Says:

    BRC… Your desert rock stars….Thank-You

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  43. Poppy Says:

    thank you!!!!!!! great post and excellent photos!!!

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  44. Timber Says:

    THANK YOU! This is one time I want to be fenced in.

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  45. Whisper Says:

    tears in my eyes…you guys are beautiful souls :) Thank you!!!!!

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  46. Leaf Says:

    I don’t care about fencing in the Olympics, but fencers on the playa are MY heroes.

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  47. Dance Ninja Says:

    You guys are the playa!!!! creating, inspiring, and being. Thank you

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  48. Avspook Says:

    Looking forward to travelling a halfway around the world to be there for the first time – great post on the posting – great work

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  49. Oliver Zhang Says:

    This is a beautiful crew, thanks for the hardwork !

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  50. Ragfish Says:

    Great work ya dusty bastards! Thank you for yet another beautiful pentagon of trusty orange fence!

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  51. Mama J Says:

    Yay. Thank you. Awesome. Heroes, all!

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