Status reports from everywhere

 

There's something big going on at the Man base
There’s something big going on at the Man base

At the end of day frikken two, there’s a giant obelisk at the Man base, there’s a wifi cloud at the Depot, a brand spanking new (to us) commissary tent has been erected, and eight and a half miles of Gate road has been staked and flagged. 

Does anybody ever take a minute off around here?

The answer would be no.

Coyote put it best at a stuffed-to-the-gills morning meeting at hot and crowded Bruno’s: It’s a simple fact that Black Rock City itself is the biggest art project on the playa. You’ll get no argument about that assertion here, so without further ado, here’s where we are and where we’re going:

 

Everybody wants their internet.
Everybody wants their internet.

TECH:

“Everybody wants their porn!” Cat joked as she watched one of her crew align a satellite dish at the top of a sixty-foot tower. But having the internet available out here provides more useful (yet no less necessary) functions. When your ticket gets swiped, computers need to talk to each other. When Gate shifts are posted, computers need to talk to each other. And if participant camps want to set up their own wifi cloud, computers need to talk to each other.

There are two sixty-foot towers already up on the playa, with dishes pointed back toward Gerlach and also at each other, providing a redundant system. If one goes down, the other is there.

It’s almost scary how much the tech team has grown, but that can’t really come as a surprise because some of the most tech-savvy people in the world come to the event. In 2006 there were five people in tech. Now there are sixteen.

And participants get the benefits, too. “If you bring a dish,” Cat said, “you can hop a network.” The techies will point your equipment and configure it to take advantage of what’s out here. So add a satellite dish to your packing list.

[Editor’s note: If you’re expecting to tap into a public WiFi, don’t. Whatever signals are out there are gifts from participants who are providing it, and it’s far from reliable. If you need reliable, bring a satellite phone.] 

The circus is in town! Err, no, but the new commissary tent is up.
The circus is in town! Err, no, but the new commissary tent is up.

 COMMISSARY: 

We’re not overly fond of stories about how armies travel on their stomachs, or about how the staff gets fed in remote locations, because let’s face it, who really cares? You’re not going to eat in the commissary, and radical self reliance would indicate that no one should have food provided for them either. Old-timers no doubt will moan that this is merely more proof that Burning Man has gone soft in the middle. Too bad! Eat your spinach!

The commissary is the place where the crews get fed. Spectrum Services of Dallas is the caterer, and they are fantastic. (I say this because good pub might earn me an extra piece of cake after dinner.) Many people, myself included, eat better, more-balanced meals here than in the real world. Hundreds of hot and ravenous workers,  who might also be tired and grumpy, line up three times a day for grub. Hundreds of people three times a day! And oh and by the way a lot of the law-enforcement people assigned to Burning Man also take their meals at the commissary, and it is excellent customer relations and only smart to keep them well fed and relatively happy.

There are more workers, and more guests, and the old commissary tent wasn’t large enough to handle the crush. This had been obvious for the past couple of years, and this year changes were made. 

The new tent looks like the circus is in town. It’s a three-pole job, and  it is almost half again as big as the old one (60×120 vs. 50×100, check my math please). Sylkia, the commissary operations manager, couldn’t have looked happier as she watched the big top going up. “We’ll definitely have a little more elbow room,” she said.

The putting up of the commissary tent has always been a big early deal out here, and yesterday was no exception, although things went more smoothly than usual. Instead of needing five people to yank on ropes to get them taught, the new tent has ratchets that make that task easier. Oh, the technology!

At the end of a very long day, it was time to take a break.
At the end of a very long day of flagging gate road, it was time to take a break.

 

GATE ROAD

There’s always a letdown after the excitement and hubbub of fence day, but there’s still an awful lot of pounding and staking that needs to be done. Yesterday that was happening on gate road, that tortuously long stretch of dirt that takes you from 447 to the greeter’s stations.

As you drive in, you see the flags lining the roadway (and eventually there will be the Burma Shave-type signs to read, as well). Just George and his crew were out there yesterday, pounding the stakes and tying the flags. The road is eight and half miles long! And the entire length, on both sides, is lined with flags.

We would like some of whatever they are putting into the crew’s water, because it seemingly makes them  invulnerable. The work on gate road began just after breakfast and it lasted until almost 5. The temperatures have been climbing, and yesterday was in the upper 90s, and somehow it felt even hotter than that.

And yet, even in the late afternoon, the flag crew was JOGGING from stake to stake, tying on the flags, then hustling to the next one. This after fence day. This after working all day miles from anywhere, in the heat and relentless sun. It just kind of took your breath away.

In the end it all got done, of course. Just George handed out congratulatory PBRs. Fortunately, no pushups were required.

The gypsum road up into the hills.
The gypsum road up into the hills.

THAT SKY

It just continues to amaze, every single day (and morning and evening and night). The hills outside Gerlach were just plain glowing after dinner last night, so we skipped the normal Black Rock Saloon festivities and headed to Empire with the old gypsum plant in mind, to do a little shooting (photographically speaking).

Instead of heading to the plant, though, we took a side road (“paved” with white gypsum) that led up into the hills. And there we watched the evening turn into night, the sky changing color by the second, pinks and blues and purples offset by the browns and greens of the desert brush.

You just forget how huge the vistas are here until you return. We could see clouds gathering far off in the distance, and then the lightning started. No doubt it was raining and thundering somewhere, but all we could see were the flashes. No sound,  no rain, just brilliant bursts of light.

It was enough to make you forget the fire and blinkies and light shows of Burning Man, just for a little while.

And here are some more photos from these and other stories:

Some dudes really know how to roll out here.
Some dudes really know how to roll out here.
A couple of desert legends
A couple of desert legends, Cowboy Carl and Just George

 

All over the playa, everywhere, random acts of construction are committed.
All over the playa, everywhere, random acts of construction are committed.

 

Meredith is on the Man Base crew, and yesterday was her birthday, so we took a picture. The glamour pose wasn't her idea, so give her a break!
Meredith is on the Man Base crew, and yesterday was her birthday, so we took a picture. The glamour pose wasn’t her idea, so give her a break!

 

Sylkia was all smiles after the big new tent went up.
Sylkia was all smiles after the big new tent went up.

 

The interior of the big new tent is ... big! (Hey, it's a big deal to us!)
The interior of the big new tent is … big! (Hey, it’s a big deal to us!)

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Have you ever seen gate road so packed and tidy?
Have you ever seen gate road so packed and tidy?

 

There are flags almost as far as the eye can see.
There are flags almost as far as the eye can see.

 

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The flag crew was out there working by their lonesomes.

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Even at the end of the day, they were jogging from stake to stake.

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Day Two of taped-up hands taking a beating.
Every now and then we post a gratuitous beefcake (or cheesecake) shot. This is one of those times.
Every now and then we post a gratuitous beefcake (or cheesecake) shot. This is one of those times.

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Mission accomplished, PBR in hand.
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Gate Road Flag Crew, 2013
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The hills came alive with color as evening fell.

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The gypsum road to way out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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