The Department of Public Works!
Photos By: Evrim D. Cakir (AKA Madonna)
Your mouth becomes a mini jack hammer even saying it.
You remember those guys even when you were a little kid, don’t you. They were the ones climbing up out of man holes and busting up the streets. I’d watch them from the back seat of my Mom’s Buick as she passed, and marvel at the big burly dirty work. My favorite toys were always the Tonka trucks and bulldozers.
Workin’ on the highway, all day long, you don’t stop,
Workin’ on the highway, blasting through the bedrock,
Workin’ on the highway, layin’ down the black top,
Workin’ on the highway, workin’ on the highway!
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Not the crunchy kind, but the smoooooooth.
So, there we were, lumbering along in that same damn school bus, heading to the playa on Aug.1st to catch the precious dawn lighting that helps me pick out small wire flags at 2100′. I don’t have to tell you of the magic of a playa at sunrise, and this one poked it’s devil horns up over the mountains with a blood red morning.
Something about a sailor’s warning?
But, for the moment, we had near perfect survey weather with blessed cloud cover, and temperatures dipping into the 80′s.
As the sun snailed its way up, it found a random set of freak show clouds, and beamed the playa with this weird amber-like hue. And just like that, I was looking at this humongous just opened jar of peanut butter. The only nick in it was the golden stake I was straddling, and I was the one to cut the first knife marks into it. So, a careful boy I was, and one by one, we started setting the grand arc of the Esplanade. Later that morning, when we were setting the flag for the center camp cafe, I had the rare and once a year opportunity to step forward to what was now the top of the key, and gaze upon these freshly set flags that marked our Esplanade. At this point there were no wheel tracks whatsoever, or even a trace of a road, and these brand new, not yet dusty orange flags were sprouting out of virgin cracked playa like tender little seedlings. It’s like the city was a new born baby, only four hours old.
Little does it know…
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Peer pressure means you have friends.
Last year in the early part of July, I was making my annual back-and-forth to the work ranch, and it was one of those grand summer nights at our beloved late beach club that the camp grins got the better of us, and out came the hair clippers. Being a fifteen year pony tailed hair farmer, I certainly had never shaved my head. Being the brawny and somewhat ruckus lads and lasses that they were, there was no sense in fighting when I was wrenched into the “chair”. Well, the day before, I had shaved off my beard just for kicks, and left this hysterical Tom Sellick looking mustache, so when my head was completely shaved a few very painful minuets later, (very dull clippers), the uproar of gafawing, pointing, and shrieks of har har’s were because they couldn’t decide whether I looked like G. Gorden Liddy, or the strong man at the carnival! I couldn’t stop touching my head. Bottom line is that it felt absolutely awesome in the high heat with a wet bandana and a cowboy hat. “Gonna defiantly be doing this every year, by golly!” was what I was saying with my head hanging out my truck window like a hound.
So, last week was a grand night just like the other one, and once again, we all enjoyed the bonding force of the clippers that are now part of the super charged kick off to the DPW summer season. And let me tell ya, with a couple of beers on a hot desert night in the middle of nowhere, a feller can get dang creative knowing that he’s got about two months to grow it out come bubble burst time in the fall. I mean, we got some crazy looking poodles working around here right now. Top carpenter, Pete Brenneman, aka “Big Gay Pete” wins the blue ribbon, with this Baby Huey baby bonnet looking thing, and I don’t think I’m gonna get used to it. He gets asked to put his hat on all through the day. He calls it a “Hori-hawk”, and I’m guessing that means horizontal mohawk, and I think you’re getting the picture.
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120 degrees in the shade. Hell of a way to run a Christmas season!
Coyote here, and back on line. Been a bit busy lately. In true DPW fashion, I’ve been completely up-rooting my city set up and pinching off all the major arteries just long enough to create a ten week window so I can come out here to the northern Nevada high desert and sweat a city onto the playa. There’s not too many jobs that you have to actually move into, and this one’s even kookier with the infamous harsh and thorny conditions of, well, everything! Even the insects are assholes out here, and as-a-matter-of-fact, I just now had to brush a pretty hefty black spider off my computer screen. It’s good to be home. Talk about your running off to join the circus!
I’ve always found the construction and dismantling of Black Rock City to be truly fascinating, and have been waiting for the documentary to come out on NOVA for a while now. (Somebody make some phone calls!) It’s a kick to be in on the tip, and if the truth be known, the real underlying purpose of this column has always been to tell the first hand story of the daily challenges of the DPW at “Christmas in July” time, in a land where Murphy’s Law reigns supreme! Everything breaks, the weather seldom cooperates, the nearest hardware store is two hours away, sporadic deliveries can cause extreme scheduling hell, and sometimes duct tape doesn’t even work, for christ sakes! Every day is one big long McGiver episode.
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