SF Gets Decompressed

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We went to San Francisco’s version of Decompression on Sunday, and the cool grey city of love was looking anything but cool and grey: sunshine and late-summer warmth carried the day.

Esprit Park was jammed, the drinks were cool and the outfits were fantastic. No, we weren’t in the desert, and no, Burning Man wasn’t still happening, but wherever and whenever you get to the people and things that make you happy, that’s a good thing. And Decompression is that good thing.

There were art cars and info booths, Black Rock Solar and BMIR, flames and glowies, and plenty of happy people. It’s funny: during the event you might tend to stick with your own kind; ravers are with ravers, artists are with artists, builders are with builders. But at Decompression we all kind of get thrown together along four long blocks in the Dogpatch, and you see all the disparate sides of Burning Man in a comparatively small space.

There was Larry his own self behind the yellow tape at the Friends of DPW area (and thank you Caitlin and Pinkie and Abbey and all the rest who gave their time and money and energy to create a safe landing place for the slightly shell-shocked folks who only last week got back from the desert after finishing up Playa Restoration).

There were sound stages all along the event area, and there were DJs and live music, and interestingly enough there were also spoken-word performances, which leads you to believe that the entertainment and scope of what happens at Decom continues to expand and evolve. Late in the night a young guy was telling the story of a recent breakup, and there was a good 60 people or so, sitting and listening and feeling a little more connected to the experiences we all share.

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There was Marian and Lady Bee and Will Chase and Lightning and other BM luminaries, and there was Plex and Deborah and dozens if not hundreds of other volunteers who make all this possible. It never ceases to amaze us how much is accomplished because of the kindness and generosity of and open-heartedness of the volunteers. None of this could happen without them, and we thank them sincerely, if inadequately, every chance we get. Thank you for getting up early, thank you for staying up late, thank you for working the whole time. Thank you.

We naturally gravitated around the DPW enclave, because it felt like home. We could watch the parade of people strolling by, the stilt-walkers and the sparkle ponies, the makers and artists, the veterans and the newbies.

You probably remember how challenging it was to readjust to the default world when you got back from the desert. But imagine if you had been out there since the beginning of August and just now returned to your other life. The desert cleanup is finished, but the BLM inspection hasn’t taken place yet because the government is at least partially shut down. And it’s unclear when that inspection will happen. But if history is any guide, and of course it is, there won’t be anything to worry about; the Resto crew went over the playa inch by inch so that we can truly say that Burning Man is a leave-no-trace event.

There were signs yesterday, though, that environmental mindfulness can get left behind in the desert. At the end of the night, as we walked out to Mariposa street, we couldn’t help but notice how much litter was on the ground. Sigh. And that’s why there was another team of volunteers on duty very early Monday morning, making sure that we could justifiably claim that Decompression, like Burning Man, is a leave-no-trace event. It just needs a little help.

But let’s not focus on the negative. It was a glorious day. The fabulous weather made the playa costumes completely appropriate. For most everyone, it was exactly what we needed – a little taste of what we cherish. And hey, most of us got to sleep in our own beds afterward, and that’s not a terrible thing, either.

So it was good seeing you, and we hope we see you at the Artumnal, and we can’t wait to see what you’re working on now, and don’t be a stranger in the meantime.

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Plenty of sound camps on the playa, and plenty of sound camps at Decompression.
Plenty of sound camps on the playa, and plenty of sound camps at Decompression.
Michelle and Franny
Michelle and Franny
The Story Portal
The Story Portal

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The man running the sound board was lit by the light from his phone
The man running the sound board was lit by the light from his phone
Famous photographer Sidney Erthal, center, always manages to have a good time.
Famous photographer Sidney Erthal, center, always manages to have a good time.
Joh and Sagesse
Joh and Sagesse
The wet-plate collodion prints made on the playa by Brian Sullivan.
The wet-plate collodion prints made on the playa by Brian Sullivan.
Little Wing and NSane
Little Wing and NSane
Younger people totally understand the value of dressing up.
Younger people totally understand the value of dressing up.
Where there's fire, there's Dave X.
Where there’s fire, there’s Dave X.
Wild Bill, Glenda, and a very skeptical pooch.
Wild Bill, Glenda, and a very skeptical pooch.

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Absinthia is always a vision in green.
Absinthia is always a vision in green.
Are words really necessary?
Are words really necessary?
Mr. Randall would don evening attire a bit later.
Mr. Randall would don evening attire a bit later.

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Affinity and Monkey Boy
Affinity and Monkey Boy
Burning Man, and Decompression, are definitely kid-friendly
Burning Man, and Decompression, are definitely kid-friendly

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Daisy and Talia
Daisy and Talia
Commissary duties never get her down
Commissary duties never get her down
Marco and Mr. Nightshade
Marco and Mr. Nightshade
Buford T. Coyote
Buford T. Coyote

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Sometimes the littlest things can be a help.
Sometimes the littlest things can be a help.
It felt like Burning Man, but we were still in SF.
It felt like Burning Man, but we were still in SF.
The dust storms were manufactured especially for the occasion
The dust storms were manufactured especially for the occasion
D.A., who leads Playa Restoration, and Greta Garbage, Green Team manager at Media Mecca
D.A., who leads Playa Restoration, and Greta Garbage, Green Team manager at Media Mecca
The hand-drawn MOOP map from Playa Restoration
The hand-drawn MOOP map from Playa Restoration
The Friends of DPW put out a nice spread
The Friends of DPW put out a nice spread

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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.

18 thoughts on “SF Gets Decompressed

  • Well, Errm, I have a couple of thoughts, and I hope you’ll hear them in the spirit in which they are offered (collegially):

    1) I don’t know how I could say thanks any more clearly to ALL the volunteers who make events like this even remotely possible.

    2) If there’s a person or group of people that you think are doing a great job and no one seems to know about it, then by all means feel free to drop me a line at curley here: curley (at) burningman.com. Or feel free to tell us about them right here in the comments; some of my favorite pieces on the Burning Blog are written by commenters.

    3) There are 41 pictures posted on this blog item; 20 of them have nothing to do with DPW. Which of course means that 21 DO have something to do with DPW, so I guess I’m guilty. But that’s the group I know the best, so I hope you’ll understand.

    So fire away, we’re all ears.

    Best,

    John

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  • Good morning everyone! I’m a displaced Burner living in the South (though I guess it’s important to remember that no matter where you are, being a Burner means you’re home no matter what). Anyways, reading this article and seeing the photos brought tears to my eyes!

    I feel like I know all of you, like we’ve been friends forever. I love you and miss you, see you next year!

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  • Hi John, thank you for responding. Please note that my comment was directed at the whole blog, not just you.

    1) One way might be instead of only documenting your friends, walk 10 feet in any direction and start capturing moments in groups you’re less familiar with. Fence day has a waiting list – because it always gets massive coverage! Maybe if other groups and their shittiest work day got noticed, they’d also feel appreciated and might attract more volunteers to their ranks too.

    2) All of them. Like you said, there are thousands of people making this thing happen each year. Why not go out of your way to document the crews you’re least familiar with? That would be a wonderful gift to them, all of whom deserve the same levels of public adulation that only comes from exposure.

    3) 41 pictures, 20 have nothing to do with DPW – but zero highlight another department. Focusing only on your group of friends is possibly the least Burning Man thing someone can do.

    Your photographs are consistently some of the best that get published here. We’d love to be in one, one day.

    – Errrr (of several as yet unknown crews)

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  • Someone should say this, so I volunteer. Decompression is produced by the Special Events Team, who start working on it before before leaving for the playa, and hit the ground hard upon return. Some of us don’t even get a chance to unpack, de-dust, etc. We skip our own birthdays, other great parties and events, and literally put all of our time into planning Decompression. We sleep little, arrive early, work all day at the event, stay until everyone is gone and all is well, and then go thump.

    But, it’s not just us. Theme Camps hit the ground running, after giving so much on the playa, to give more, so people can decompress. The beautiful artists, some with fire, some with lights, some bringing what they shared in the desert, others create something new, so people can decompress. Sound camps and mutant vehicles collaborate together to bring the dancing energy and music from the playa. They build stages, upgrade the vehicles, combine talent. Bands and Performers of all types, from near and from far away, bring entertainment, so people can decompress. We publicize them, they deserve it. We LOVE them for being the content that IS Decompression.

    So many of us do not come back to the default world and go back to our normal lives, We fly by the seat of our pants, with dust flying everywhere, to organize all those contributing to the event, to get permits, attend endless meetings with neighbors, politicians, boards and vendors, planning the logistics, power, layout, sound, art, entertainment, to organize volunteers, place barricades, get that done and this done, more meetings with each other…DO WE HAVE ENOUGH PORTA-POTTIES? AARRGGHH.

    It is the Special Events Team, led by Steven Raspa, and followed by a bunch of crazy burners, who put their heart and soul into making Decompression happen. We don’t get listed on the website, the promotional materials, or, actually, anywhere. No one really knows who we are, but we don’t really mind. We actually have fun together. So, in case anyone out there actually cares, it is The Special Events Team that makes it all happen, and we are damn proud of it.

    Special Events Team: Steven Raspa, Marcia Crosby, Joegh Bullock, Bettie June, Dave X, Blondie, Jonesy Jones, Ty Bourne, Kitten aka Jennifer Stocker, Tim Treadway, Kelly the Kidd, Sreedevi Sripathy, Pritish Jacob, Sweetie aka Wayne Miller, Lumina & Griffin Childers, Deborah Gatiss, Boy Blondie, Ron Halbert, Emily Haltom, Tovah King, Joe (Fez) Zarate-Sanderlin, and everyone else that I unfortunately am leaving out, because I am exhausted but finally unpacking from the playa, and because we don’t have a full list of rockstars, because no one ever asks……

    Well, now you know most of them. If you are reading this. If not, oh well, we are used to it.

    Sincerely, Blondie, aka Jan Turner, Cruise Director & Sound Camp Goddess, and proud member of the Special Events Team. There, I said it. Someone had to.

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  • Jan, Blondie, THANK YOU!

    Thanks for saying what you did, for taking the time to write it all, and for all you and your cohorts did to make Decompression as great as it was.

    People DON’T know your names, and probably don’t realize how much effort and sacrifice it takes to pull the event together. So I’m so glad you’ve shared that with us.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  • You are very welcome. I have been dying to write something like that for so many years now. Even though it is just a comment, listed at the end of comments, to someone’s blog (GREAT Blog by the way — you are wonderful John Curley !!!) Your beautiful blog kept me reading to the end, then the comments fell into place just right, and, *POOF*, I found myself having fun writing something I always wanted to write, to mention my team’s names. To say, we do this, and we are proud to bring this to everyone, …well, anyway. Thank you for letting me have this. Thanks for being the perfect place to put out a little bit of kudos for a team that deserves it, and that I am honored to work with.

    I am good to go for another decade. . Thanks John Curley, hope we meet someday. Keep writing and taking pictures. You are gifted.

    P.S. Errm does have a good point though. Get to know other teams just a bit. I bet they would welcome you with open arms, wings whatever. Your horizon expanded is guaranteed to compliment your gifts, and maybe bring even more of an appreciation and deeper incite into what is currently your chosen surroundings (a mouthful – well, I’m obviously not the gifted writer). Example: I go see my real family (blood related). I return…and boy do I appreciate my Burner family even more, not only comparing (a no brainer), but I somehow develop new ways to love my family here, to know them, to learn them, to learn from them. Not saying to go visit my family for a shock in outch-ism, but by purposely getting a little incite on what that team does to rock so well together, or what in the heck does the team over there do to pull such huge monkeys out of their hineys so successfully, and why can that other team have sooooo much fun, walk through wormholes, and never do any homework…Then instead of 20 photos of random, and 21 of your team, you get “maybe 5 of them over there, 6 here, a few can’t help it beautiful random people and, whooooo, 17 shots of them over there cuz those cats are insane, and colorful, and, finally couldn’t help it, 21 of my favorite people in the world,” but this time from a drone borrowed from the first group. You think “hey, my cats look even better laughing hysterically at said drone wearing bunny ears, flying up to them, playing Led Zeppelin out of a tiny speaker attached to camera, with a blinky of course….” See, improved, and team thinks you are really cool cuz you made them laugh, and are playing with kick arse drone thingy….

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  • What Blondie said! But I would also like to add that our volunteer community does BRING IT. Griffin and I coordinated all the volunteers to staff our gates, commissary, line controls, decor, strike and setup and we found the most amazing Volunteers. So if you are reading this and volunteered with us this year — a huge THANK YOU! These folks arrive early at 7 am and stay late until 3 am. We cannot pull off Decompression without them and they were absolutely STELLAR this year! It was the smoothest Decompression in terms of Volunteers this year! Griffin and I actually got to go out and play more this year because we had some fantastic Volunteers helping us and shoosing us out onto the street to go have fun. No pulling our hair out this year, no stress…no real shortages…smooth sailing! Hurrah!

    Thank you John also for the kudos. It feels good to be recognized and your blog and photos are beautiful. You really captured the beauty of Decompression.

    Hats off Sir!

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  • Thanks for covering our wee little event, John! I’d like to chime in on what Blondie and Lumina said (two of my fellow Special Events Team Members.) I feel extremely honored and humbled to work with such vivacious, creative, and beautiful individuals! The Special Events Team Decompression is a gift to you gorgeous people of our community. I’m thrilled to be part of the orchestrated chaos of planning our year round events! We couldn’t have done it without YOU. Yes, you.

    Humbly Yours,
    Talina (Decor Team Lead)
    Proud member of BMSE Team

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  • Unfortunately, John, I must ask that you please remove both of my comments above. I was informed that our team, and especially not the individuals on the team, are to get credit for Decompression, or any other event, as it is the VOLUNTEERS that make it happen, “even if our team does bear the real weight of things and kick serious ass!”

    So we are to remain unknown. Sorry.

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  • I just want to say: THANK YOU!!

    I could not help but be overjoyed by the immense rush of peace, love, and intense comfort of being home again as it seeped up and out of my heart at the sights and sounds which so strongly remind me of Burning Man. GAH! I love you beautiful people. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!

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  • You probably remember how challenging it was to readjust to the default world when you got back from the desert. But imagine if you had been out there since the beginning of August and just now returned to your other life. The desert cleanup is finished, but the BLM inspection hasn’t taken place yet because the government is at least partially shut down. And it’s unclear when that inspection will happen. But if history is any guide, and of course it is, there won’t be anything to worry about; the Resto crew went over the playa inch by inch so that we can truly say that Burning Man is a leave-no-trace event.

    Report comment

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