The Burn So Far

The Man welcomed crowds to his saucer
The Man welcomed crowds to his saucer

So after all the months, and then all the weeks, and then the days of prep and planning and building and worrying and leave-taking, guess what? Burning Man snuck up on us and blasted right out of the gate.

Just like that, the doors opened and thousands and thousands of people poured through, some more slowly than others, and swelled the population of the city to holy crap 55,000 by midday on Tuesday. So it’s pretty clear that this won’t be a year like last year, when the population declined for the first time.

We find it next to impossible to even pretend to have a handle on what is happening at Burning Man. We only touch one part of the elephant; your results may vary.

All we know is that people couldn’t wait to get here this year, that tickets seemed in demand right up until the the time of the opening, and the our little bubble of a world has been colored a rusty shade of red from the wildfires that rage nearby. Sunrises and sunsets are orange and red, and at night the moon looks like it is in eclipse, because it is so perfectly orange.

Is the city having growing pains? Hard to know. How big is too big? Also hard to know. We do know that most likely there will be more burners in Black Rock Desert this year than ever before; we also know that there are more people who consider themselves Burners who have never been to the Nevada desert, but they feel part of whatever this is because of the associations they have made on the Regional level.

“There is a Burning Man movement,” Larry Harvey his own self said this morning, “but we didn’t generate it. … We don’t provide the content, just the theme. … And we know that this community is allergic to pronouncements.”

True, true and true.

Crimson got ready to light the cauldron (Photo by Erica Bartel)
Crimson got ready to light the cauldron (Photo by Erica Bartel)

The Burning Man ethos strikes us as the same as a successful startup – first create something cool. Worry about everything else later. And it seems to us that the Burning Man organization has been doing that since the beginning, out there on Baker Beach.


A Visit to the DMV

Sparky is justifiably proud of the changes at the DMV
Sparky is justifiably proud of the changes at the DMV

If you’re going to drive a mutant vehicle in Black Rock City, you’re going to need a permit for that beast. And to get one, you’re going to need to visit the DMV – the Department of Mutant Vehicles.

Tell us your favorite story of a visit to the DMV in the real world– oh, that’s right, you don’t have one. It’s a miserable, soul-sucking experience.

Not too long ago, it wasn’t much different on the playa. Fantastic and fantastical vehicles would be lined up along the Esplanade, their owners looking for someone who could PLEASE check them in and get them on their way. It was pretty haphazard and frustrating for all concerned.

“Frankly, we sucked,” Sparky was saying as a line of cars began taking shape in the morning sun. But things have changed, and Sparky seemed justifiably proud of the way the department has turned around.

“It took us two years, but we completely redid everything,” Sparky said. “All new software, and a really robust database.” That database makes lots of things possible, including quicker and easier registration, and access to the clientele.

Tashi Pomo does the cooking for the big Osiris sound camp, and she was having trouble getting clearance for food deliveries. “So I called the DMV and asked if I could do a last-minute registration,” she said. There was no way that could happen, BUT, what the DMV could do was get out word to all of their already registered vehicles to see if someone might be able to step up and help. And of course someone did.

“They saved me,” Tashi said.

Tashi: The DMV saved her bacon
Tashi: The DMV saved her bacon


You’re Gonna Bring That Wood Where?

The Vancouver CORE team
The Vancouver CORE team

The Vancouver Regional burners were on their way to Black Rock City to participate in the Circle of Regional Effigies – the big ring of art installations around the Man that will go up in flames en masse on Thursday night.

The first folks from the Vancouver team were on the road with a big load of wooden pallets with which they would build their Artifactuary project. But when they got to the U.S.-–Canadian border, a moment of truth arrived with them.

Somehow, at least some of the pallets the Vancouver team had purchased had not been treated with the material that would prevent insect infestation. So the border patrol took a look at the wood for the big art piece and simply said nope, that thing’s not going anywhere.

The road to Burning Man is often a journey of frustration and despair, and so it was for the Vancouver team this year.

“We’ve had plenty of years when everything went smoothly,” Ryan was saying at a morning get-together for the various CORE teams on Sunday, “but this wasn’t one of them.”

So they were not going to be able to bring the wood for their project with them. And they worried that they wouldn’t have enough time to go back to Vancouver and get what they needed. So they made a decision to leave their project right there at the border, continue on to Black Rock City, and then sort things out when they got here.

“We were going to have faith that the playa would provide,” Carnie said.

And to make a long and difficult story short, the playa did indeed provide.

Ryan and Carnie stood in the dust and hooked their thumbs over their shoulders and gestured at the Man sitting atop his giant flying saucer. “The wood came from him,” Ryan said.

The Man base is a gargantuan project this year, and a thing of such scale generates a lot of scrap wood. So it was decided that the Vancouver team would get a lot of that leftover scrap. That helped a lot, and so did Betty June, who stepped up and found some last-minute money for them so they could get some more wood, too.

Carnie and Ryan from the Vancouver team
Carnie and Ryan from the Vancouver team

“We just feel so much love,” Ryan said. “We can’t believe how many people came forward to help,” he said. (more…)

Your Turn

"The Coyote" seemed to be howling at the rising sun
“The Coyote” seemed to be howling at the rising sun

So let’s just get this out of the way and come out and say it right up front: We can’t wait for you to get here.

After all the weeks and weeks of toil and trouble (and thunder and lighting and pounders and Bruno’s and 12-Mile and trash fence), we are ready.

Well, pretty much.

There’s a morning meeting every day at the Depot, which is something of a central command center for the crews working here, the whole lot of them – Power, Water, Roads, Spires, Shade, Recycle, Special Projects, Heavy Equipment, Transpo, Dispatch, Commissary, Signs, Gate, Emergency Services, Human Resources (!!), Fuel … everything. And every morning there’s a meeting before the meeting, where the honchos get together on the side and trade notes and go over what needs to happen at the morning meeting. No doubt the most important stuff takes place at the meeting before the meeting.

And today was the last morning meeting (until after the event), and it was also the last of the meetings before the meeting. And Coyote said they were all over there, looking down the 5:30 road into the center of Black Rock City, looking at what they had accomplished over the past three weeks – the roads, the lights, the tents, the flags, the signs, and hey, how about that, the ART – and they looked out at it all on the day before the gates open and the participants coming streaming in and the group reached a consensus:

Close enough.

"Louder," aka Charlie Dolman, was gifted at the morning meeting
“Louder,” aka Charlie Dolman, was gifted at the morning meeting

Yes, there’s still lots of work going on. The indefatigable Man Base crew is still hammering away, the Temple is still frantic with activity, and there are still more signs to put up around the city to guide you on your way. (Already 20 of the handcrafted signs have been vandalized, damaged or just plain stolen, and it’s very tough to replace them at this point, so when you get here please please please leave them alone).

But for the most part, it’s all done. It’s ready. WE’RE ready. We’re ready for you to get here and get this thing going.

Because no matter how romantic or heroic or attractive it might look to be around for the setup, it’s really not about the work. It’s about getting ready for the magic to happen.

“We get to bathe in it for weeks and weeks,” Logan said. “But we’re building the canvas, (and you) get to paint.”

Because this was the morning meeting, and because this was very close to being a genuine sentiment stated out loud, of course it was pounced on.

“We set the table, and they come to dinner,” someone said.

“We make the bed, now come lay down,” someone else said.

The analogies went on for a while and got more and more ridiculous, but the point was made. This thing doesn’t really happen until you get here. So hurry up and get here, because we’re tired of all this building, we’re tired of the place looking like the world’s biggest yard sale. It’s time for Burning Man.

(Also: take your time and be careful: Don’t speed through the little towns on 447. Don’t go more than 5 mph in the city. Keep your shit trim, and stay cool. Seriously.)

Yesterday the last spire was driven into the playa floor. It was decorated with as much jank as possible, and it will stand all crooked and funky right there along the Esplanade, inside an eight-sided wooden enclosure, the same oculus that is set up on the night of the Golden Spike, when the very first metal is pounded into the ground with much pomp and ceremony.

Squirrelly at the last spire
Squirrelly at the last spire


Mike Garlington’s “Photo Chapel”


Mike Garlington was laboring with his nine-person crew under a sky made blood red from the smoke of surrounding fires this week as he worked to install his “Photo Chapel” in Black Rock City.

“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” he said as he hurried from worker to worker, handing up tools, carrying lumber and talking about the structural integrity of his piece.

Garlington is very much a known quantity on the playa, both as an artist and DPW worker. He’s called Photo Mike, or Photo Miguel, and although he is not working DPW this year, he will stay after the event is over to help clean up the highways that are always littered with trash by departing Burners.

Garlington is upbeat and always in motion. During the year, he’s usually up and dawn and working in the studio. His idea notebook is thick to overflowing, and he’s always looking ahead to what comes next.

Last year, he collaborated with famed playa artist Laura Kimpton on the “Ego” project, and even as he watched flames engulf the work, he was already talking about what he wanted to do this year.

“Photo Chapel” is the apex of many of Garlington’s artistic arcs – meticulous photographic printer, conceptual photographer, inventive framer, and DPW pirate. The chapel is the culmination of 14 years of image-making, with many of the photographs created during his annual two months in the desert, working alongside the vivid personalities in the DPW as they set up and take down Burning Man.

One of the trucks that the Fluffers use (Fluffers being he women who visit the various work crews to deliver cool drinks, snacks and smiles) is covered with more Garlington photos made in the desert and mounted on the truck’s exterior. The truck never fails to attract onlookers during the event.

His own van is also covered with his work. He used to do a lot of shooting in remote locations, and the beat-up van was his darkroom on wheels. Although his most familiar photographs are shot with a 4×5 camera and Polaroid Type 55 film, being behind a camera did not come easily to Garlington.

Garlington was in nearly constant motion as the build continued
Garlington was in nearly constant motion as the build continued


Riding High


The Man base and neon crews were scrambling all over the Man again on Wednesday, and they were working on installing power to the motors that will rotate the Man on top of his flying saucer. It’s the second time the Man will rotate; in 2005, he swung around on his base via human power.

The Man his own self was put on top of the structure Tuesday in an early morning lift. In a departure from previous years, there wasn’t the pomp and ceremony accompanying the operation. That may be because there just isn’t much time for it. This is an ambitious project, and the site is still very much a construction zone.

Tuesday evening, Stinky Pirate was kind enough to take us and another looky-loo up in the 135-foot boom lift, the highest on the playa, to get a look at the Man eye-to-eye. Actually, we were waaayyyyy over the Man when the boom finished its ascent. We couldn’t quite stop our legs from shaking, though, which was a bit unsettling. It wasn’t that we were in fear for our lives, because we trusted the machine. It may just have been that our body was telling us, hey, we don’t belong this high in the air. Get us down!

Pirate is one of those interesting, multitalented characters that one meets on a regular basis on the playa. He has a tall ships background, so being on a boom lift on a flat desert floor is nothing for him. “I used to climb on ships, and the difference was, you were a hundred feet up in the air, but you had got there by pulling yourself up on ropes, and then you were rolling back and forth, so no, this doesn’t feel like much.”

Maybe not, but to us it felt like an awfully fine place to be, and we are grateful to Pirate for making it happen.

Here are some photos of the Man being put atop his base, and from our ride with Pirate to the top of the playa:

Crews worked to attach the Man to the base while a crane held him in place


Law Enforcement’s Comin’ To Town

[Editor’s Note: John Curley is one of our best and most respected bloggers, however his original story didn’t include important details that give a more complete perspective of law enforcement onsite. The Burning Blog editorial staff will always reserve the right to expand a story to provide a deeper understanding. We have made these edits with John’s permission.]

Law enforcement arrived in a very visible way
Law enforcement arrived in a very visible way

The Man is not the only Man who arrived on the playa yesterday.

The other arrival we’re talking about is that other Man, the police, aka law enforcement officials, who have joined us in town and made their presence clear.

At least two people onsite for setup were cited for peeing on the playa (which carries a $275 fine, plus the threat that the offense could, at the officer’s discretion, be elevated into an indecent exposure rap, which would make you a sex offender and really make a mess of your record). Burning Man supports the event being all ages, and it’s important we keep that in mind even pre-event when it might look like there’s no one there to see you pee. (more…)

Lots of Lightning, and Some Rain

Lightning was striking all around Black Rock City last night. The green glow in the lower left of the photo was the green neon of the Man, which was lit up for the first time Tuesday night
Lightning was striking all around Black Rock City. The green glow in the lower left of the photo was the green neon of the Man, which was lit up for the first time Tuesday night

A powerful storm cell hit Black Rock City about 10:45 on Tuesday night, causing staff to put into effect a Level 0 rain contingency plan, which meant that all driving was halted, and people were told to seek shelter.

Lightning had been striking all around the city for most of the night, but when the storm hit, a whiteout wiped out any view of the skies.

Consistent weather forecasts in the previous days calling for rain and thunderstorms had put Burning Man staff on notice, and supplies of water were monitored, and light towers were set up around the city as the storm cell approached.

Even though there had been lighting for hours, the rain came with a sudden fury. Playa dust turns almost instantly to impassable mud, and even walking becomes difficult as mud builds up inches deep on shoe bottoms.

There were no immediate reports of any significant damage as a result of the high winds and driving rain. Radio communications were maintained, and power was continuing to flow throughout the city.

The initial rain only lasted for 20 or 30 minutes, and it was hoped that the high winds might help conditions dry quickly.