Is that a towering lenticular, or are you just happy to see us?

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Well now THAT’S more like it!

We were pounded early this morning by a moderately fierce whiteout/brownout windstorm, and all of a sudden it felt like Burning Man.

It seems like forever since we’ve had a good, hours-long sand blasting, and we thought we were in for one today. But the dust became intermittent, and by 9 am or so the sun started working its way through the gloom. Then the skies got all blue and fabulous, and fantastic-looking clouds made everyone look skyward and go “ooooohhhh!”

We became mesmerized by the sight and wandered out of camp, and the next thing we knew we were at the Man Base, where Mr. Blue and Melissa and Opa and the rest of the lighting crews were putting in their final touches. The sideshows set up around the maze were in various stages of completion.

Medusa in the dust
Medusa in the dust

The Man Base crew was packing up shop, Silver Coon and Toolshop were putting all the tools back in the trailer container. It’ll be hauled off the playa to get everything ready for the big opening.

But this morning it looked like we were going to lose an entire day. The dust was so thick you couldn’t see the Center Café from Ring Road, and the wanderers who had ventured out were bent over in the wind, trying to see through fogged-up goggles.

Even veteran Burners like Flackmaster were disoriented. We ran into him as we made our way back to camp, and he seemed awfully glad to have found his way home.

Flackmaster
Flackmaster

The last DPW morning meeting was scheduled for the Depot today, but Playground made the call to postpone it at least for a day. It didn’t make any sense to have people trying to make their way around the city. That would be asking for trouble.

We were listening on the radio when Just George, out near the perimeter, was trying to meet up with Cowboy Carl. “I’m just going to be sitting here with my lights on,” he said tentatively, knowing that he’d be an easy target. “I’ll do my best to hit you,” Carl said.

But after a couple of hours, things lightened up. The weather forecasts have high wind advisories in effect until this evening, so we’re pretty much expecting occasional whiteouts most of the day. It reminded us of the old George Carlin weather report line: “Light followed by increasing darkness.” So it’ll be periods of dust followed by increasing amazingness.

The clouds over the playa, and if someone could help us out with the name of the art piece here, that would be appreciated
The clouds over the playa, and if someone could help us out with the name of the art piece here, that would be appreciated

The amazingness this morning included those clouds, which were, we were told, towering alto lenticulars. Matt Step works at the Man, and he’s also a pilot. “Seeing one this big is really rare,” he said. The wind whipping over the Sierra contributes to the formation, and glider pilots especially love to see them. “World records (for gliding) are set in Reno,” Matt said. “You get a massive column of lift, and sink. It can be scary as hell.”

Matt Step
Matt Step

Things actually took a turn for the weird last night, when a giant hazy rainbow appeared around the moon. It was a little like when you look at the sun after you’ve been swimming in a chlorinated pool and your eyes are all fuzzy. The first thing we did was to ask the person next to us, “Hey, do you see that??” Yes, they saw it too.

The rings round the
The rings round the

It’s a nice time to be on the playa. The big art cars aren’t allowed on the playa yet, so almost everyone was on foot or on a bicycle. It evoked a simpler time. We admit to being darktards – we wandered out without any lights on, but the moon was almost full and it was easy to see and be seen.

We heard reports of long waits at the Gates to get in the city, as the last of the early arrivers were pulling in. We’re guessing that if anything, it’ll be harder to get an early arrival pass next year.

Some of the early arrivers didn’t seem too clear on all the concepts, either. We talked to Shane Saw Sisco, who had been out on the Gate lines overnight. The Gate people have to check your car to make sure you’re not smuggling anyone in. Twice last night, Sisco said, he was asked to take off his shoes before getting into the RVs he needed to check.

Um, no.

Shane with his copy of the Gate Bingo card
Shane with his copy of the Gate Bingo card

And some more photos from out and about:

Melissa at the Man Base
Melissa at the Man Base
Jennifer Raiser, the do-everything, be-everywhere writer extraordinaire, did a Man Base guard shift and was caught in the dust storm this morning. "All this time and this is when you take my picture?" she said.
Jennifer Raiser, the do-everything, be-everywhere writer extraordinaire, did a Man Base guard shift last night and was caught in the dust storm this morning. “All this time and this is when you take my picture?” she said.

The in-between time

At the last spire party yesterday
At the last spire party yesterday

We’re caught between the now and the almost now in Black Rock City.

The work’s not finished, but it’s getting close.

The streets are as busy as they’ve ever been. The big theme camps have rolled in, and so have the artists. It’s a weird in-between time when it’s still ok to drive your car, but the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists has shot way up.

There was a giant kickball game outside the Center Café last night, and judging by the shouts, it was World Cup intense. We first thought it was incongruous that all the dusty funky types would be so into the competition, but this isn’t really a hippie encampment. It’s more broad than that, more diverse, in temperament, outlook, and, while we’re at it, age.

We know the Black Rock Census keeps excellent track of the demographics of the participants, but it seems to us that an even wider mix of people here in the build-up.

Today was the first day almost since we can remember that it wasn’t bright and sunny. Early last week there were a few days when the sun and moon were shrouded in a red haze from distant wildfires, but of late the skies have been crystalline, the clouds dramatic, the sunsets mind-numbing.

We saw pictures of our friends back in the Bay Area, and KarltheFog was much in evidence, although it seems like a heat wave is baking the area lately.

After the spire was planted, it was time for the sledge toss competition
After the spire was planted, it was time for the sledge toss competition

Here, the temperatures the past few days have only been in the mid to high 80s, and the nights have been chilly. The big weather news is that high winds are supposed to be coming our way. By the time you read this, the predictions could have changed, so the best thing to do is check the Burning Man website for the latest info. But better to get the big winds behind us now, rather than when there are tens of thousands of cars kicking up dust on Gate Road. All the people here already will get an early test of just how well they’ve tied down their stuff.

The last spire was pounded into the playa yesterday, and all the crews plus a bunch of looky-loos came by to celebrate.

There was all sorts of general jank strewn about the site. Random trenching was done for no apparent reason, and holes that were dug were immediately filled in with kicked dirt. There were cars hoisted in the air, a compost pile and random pieces of fence. There were radio antennas and road signs, including one for Spoono’s Road.

Rushing the spire
Rushing the spire

In general, it was a celebration of the end of the build. The last spire usually takes place the last Thursday before the event, but in the past couple of years, rain and other interruptions have pushed the work schedule back and its been held on Friday. But this has been a relatively smooth year, work-wise and weather-wise.

The Spires crew did the honors of getting the whole thing started, because spires is what they do. Marleyne was shooting anvils, and the sledge-throwing contest rounded out the festivities. (River was the winner.)

You can check the whole thing out at 4:20 and Esplanade, right near the Thunderdome. It’s a quite amazing collection of … stuff … put together by the most amazing people anywhere. See for yourself:

You need something? These folks can probably get it
You need something? These folks can probably get it

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Stinger fashioned an OSHA blindfold for Coyote
Stinger fashioned an OSHA blindfold for Coyote

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The yellow bike crew moves in
The yellow bike crew moves in
The last spire goes up
The last spire goes up

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Pope Phabulous, his Hyster, and a contribution
Pope Phabulous, his Hyster, and a contribution
All the way from Georgia
All the way from Georgia

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The last spire
The last spire

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Cowboy Carl may look a little taken aback by it all, but we know it's not true
Cowboy Carl may look a little taken aback by it all, but we know it’s not true

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The dread crew
The dread crew

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Doyle's car is street legal in Detroit, where he's living
Doyle’s car is street legal in Detroit, where he’s living
There are some great dogs out here; this one's everywhere
There are some great dogs out here; this one’s everywhere

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Rain, the sledge-toss winner
Rain, the sledge-toss winner

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Marleyne got a necklace from Spoono several years ago
Marleyne got a necklace from Spoono several years ago
Goatt's on the the Artica build this year
Goatt’s on the the Artica build this year
The finished project
The finished project

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—–

The sign team has been working since the middle of July on creating and signs that help you find your friends, find your way back to camp, and help others find you when you might need help.

But something really crappy has been taking place over the past several days. It’s not a new problem, but it might be surprising in that it’s going on when the only people out here are supposed to be working, either setting up the city or building art.

The signs crew, the people you're hurting the most, besides yourselves, when you take the street signs down
The signs crew, the people you’re hurting the most, besides yourselves, when you take the street signs down

The street signs are being stolen. Already. Even before the gates have opened. Most of the signs on 4 o’clock were gone the day after they went up.

“It’s at the heart of the event,” said Jenerator. “Nobody steals art at Burning Man, and the street signs are our art.”

There are 300 intersections in Black City, and each of them has a double-sided sign with the names of the streets – Arcade, Ballyhoo, Carny, Donniker, Ersatz, Freak Show, Geek, Hanky Pank, Illusion, Jolly, Kook and Laughing Sal. They are all hand-painted by the sign shop crew, then installed all over the city.

It’s not a new problem. Folks have been taking the “souvenirs” for as long as they’ve been put out, but the deal is you’re supposed to wait until Saturday of the event to take them down. The Burning Man organization even has a special program to deal with the problem – Adopt a Street Sign, aka ASS. You can read all about it right here http://blog.burningman.com/2014/08/participate/adopt-a-street-sign-ass-project/ but essentially, if someone takes off with a sign from your corner, put a new one to help the people who’ve lost their way, and to help the people who may be trying to help you if there’s an emergency.

“You wait until the Man burns, or you’re a dick,” as Bam Bam put it, ever so succinctly. “We want you to take them”, added Stabby Abby, “but just wait.”

Bottom line: be an ASS, don’ be a douche.

 

Hustles and hope

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We like to take at least one trip back into Gerlach after moving onto the playa for the build season. We like … no, we need … clean laundry, and there’s a spot at the Shell Station to do it if the Saloon gets too crowded.

But we like to see some of the people we’ve gotten to know a little bit in Gerlach, too.

Pete, who works at the gas station, had his nice pickup truck parked off the shoulder of the road the other afternoon when an arriving Burner got a little too close with the trailer she was towing. BOOM! Her awning caught Pete’s windshield, smashing through the passenger side. Fortunately, no one was inside.

Up the road a little bit, Bruno, the 93-year-old Gerlach patriarch who owns a lot of the town, is moving unsteadily from the bar to a back room. A little later, his daughter asks if anyone has seen him, and fingers point to the door Bruno disappeared through. Most days Bruno sits quietly in one of the chairs that line the other side of the bar. Sometimes he wraps himself in a blanket against the air-conditioner’s chill. A blurry mounted TV is on pretty much all the time.

A young man named Adam is hanging around outside Bruno’s, telling his story to each new person who pulls up. He was supposed to be hauling trailers from a nearby storage yard out to the playa, he says, but the guy who hired him never showed up.

Heidi and Lacy are opening a coffee shop in Gerlach on Friday. Stop in!
Heidi and Lacy are opening a coffee shop in Gerlach on Friday. Stop in!

Andy’s upbeat in a Rainbow Gathering kind of way, all platitudes and joyousness, ready for the light to start shining on him. He says he’s been doing odd jobs for a week on a ranch nearby (“Working my ass off!”), and he’s got $450 in his pocket to show for it.

Most of his story, we come to find out, isn’t true. He had only gotten to town that morning. He didn’t know how to drive a stick-shift, didn’t have the license he was supposed to have to haul the trailers, so he was told things weren’t going to work out. We’re not sure exactly what he was hoping for at this point, but getting onto the playa without a ticket was likely at the heart of the matter.

The Black Rock City offices on Main Street in Gerlach
The Black Rock City offices on Main Street in Gerlach

Lacy is big-city pretty in a small lonesome town, so when she works behind the bar at Bruno’s, there’s a spark. The rocketeers, the hunters, the locals, the Burners, they all like her easy smile and the way she listens and laughs. She seems kind and forgiving, so she makes the hard-edged drinkers feel better for awhile.

Her sister, Heidi, who also causes hearts to beat faster, moved to town last year, and the two of them will open a coffee shop on Main Street this weekend, hoping the travelers to Burning Man will need some caffeine and maybe a rest before they hit the craziness of Burning Man. They were testing the espresso machine and making freezy mocha frappuccinos the other evening. Real Ghirardelli chocolate, too.

Lacy’s sensitive to the plight of the hard-luck visitors this time of year, the ones without tickets, the ones still hoping that a miracle will happen. But Burning Man isn’t spontaneous anymore: You can’t decide at the last minute to make the trip. You need a ticket, and you need a vehicle pass, and neither comes easy. You can’t depend on the kindness of strangers, either.

A woman sitting at the counter in Bruno’s coffeeshop said she had just arrived from New York. She was supposed to have a ticket waiting for her at will-call, but it wasn’t there when she showed up. “But it’s ok,” she said, smiling. “It’s going to work out. I know it will.”

A busload of early arrivers
A busload of early arrivers

She had recently gotten out of a relationship, and Burning Man seemed like the right thing at the right time for her. But now she was struggling to figure out her next move. “The guy I got a ride with, he’s 62 years old, a really cool guy. But they wouldn’t let him in, either.”

Burning Man doesn’t let stranded travelers become a problem at the event site, so they require the people they are with to look after them, which sometimes means driving them back as far as Reno so they can get a place to stay.

Out on the dusty four-mile road into the event site, Tabitha was working a Gate shift. The wind was blowing hard, and most people were pulling on their goggles and facemasks. “We had a guy show up,” Tabitha said, “who felt his path in the world meant he should go to Burning Man.” The black-clad Gate folks were busy in the lanes of cars, checking for early arrival passes, checking for tickets, and looking in the trunks for stowaways. “But he didn’t have a ticket, or early arrival, or anything,” Tabitha said. And he, like so many before him, was sent away.

Tabitha at the Gates
Tabitha at the Gates

“If you show up here in a vehicle with someone who doesn’t have a ticket, you’re responsible,” Tabitha said. “That whole car, everyone gets turned around, and they have to deal with that person and make sure everyone gets taken care of.”

Do people get mad when they are turned away, or do they take a la-la, playa-will-provide approach?

“Most of the belligerent comes from people who are tired,” Tabitha said, “because they’ve been driving for three days. They don’t want their car to be searched, they just want to get into the city and do their thing.”

Miss Roach and Sailor were down at the Gates, too. We’re coming up on the biggest night of their year, when the doors open for 70,000 visitors.

Miss Roach
Miss Roach

“The rules are the rules,” Sailor says. “If there’s some mind-bending story, we’ll kick it upstairs, but ninety-nine percent of the time we just don’t have time for this stuff.” Miss Roach agrees: “We just don’t have the resources to make miracles happen,” she says.

Believe me, these are good-hearted, generous people, but there’s not a lot they can do. “Every now and then you get one that really moves your heart,” Miss Roach says, “but you’re like, crap.”

Hopefully, though, you’ll make it past the imposing, no-fooling-around Gate people, and you’ll head another mile or so up the dusty road to the Greeter’s station. Once there, all is well. Happy people will encourage you to get out of your car so they can give you a hug. If you’re a first-timer, they’ll want you to bang a triangle and roll in the dust.

“She didn’t want to do it at first,” one guys says after his lady friend got up from her initiation in the dust. “But she figured she might as well do it the right way.” He had taken pictures while she was down on the ground, and then the Greeter gave them more big hugs, and they got back in their car, and off they went.

Hugging for the camera
Hugging for the camera

Back at the bar in Bruno’s, Lacy is annoyed. She’s learned that her mom, who lives in the house with her and her sister and her brother, has invited smooth-talking, non-stick-driving Andy back to the house until he can get himself squared away.

“She’s gonna turn me into a mean person!” she says. “I don’t like it!”

Would she ever do that? Let a stranger with a sad-sack tale into her house?

“Oh yeah,” she says, softening.

The woman from New York who didn’t get the will-call ticket will be staying at the house tonight, too.

A few more pics:

Michael Michael at the Greeter's Station
Michael Michael at the Greeter’s Station
Almost home
Almost home
The dust was thick on the way in
The dust was thick on the way in

 

a very early Man

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Smoke Daddy and his crew have been testing the neon in the Man over the past couple of nights. He was still burning bright as the sky got light this morning.

Turning off, tuning in

The full scene
The full scene

The Man went up yesterday, and you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures of him already. It’s the way Burning Man is now; what used to happen in the electronic cone of silence of the playa is now seen everywhere almost as it happens.

We’re as guilty as anyone, of course. Yesterday, Alpheus was kind enough to take us up on a boom lift for the raising of the Man, and we had posted a photo to the internets even before we came back down to the ground.

Everyone likes to be first, and everyone likes to show you things that other people can’t. But the lines are blurred this year maybe more than ever about keeping the experience here in Black Rock City instead of sharing it immediately with the social media.

The phone service out here this year has been banging. In previous years, AT&T customers like us have been forced to use a “roaming” service when we arrived in Gerlach. The data restrictions were severe; check your email a couple of times, maybe post a pic, and you’re about done. (Verizon customers have always fared better, with more reception and no roaming to deal with.)

But AT&T has apparently put up new cell towers in the area, and phone service on the playa is 3G with four bars pretty much all the time. We’re thinking that that will change once there are 70,000 people here, and the circuits will become overloaded and all but impossible to use. But the communications landscape has changed.

Roo on her way to the big Man lift
Roo on her way to the big Man lift

It’s not a new discussion, whether to be connected to the rest of the world during the event. But the Burning Man organization believes that being connected to the world runs counter to the value it places on immediacy.

“Last year I was out at one of my favorite places to dance,” Communications Director Megan Miller said the other morning, “and I saw three guys standing in a circle looking down, in the white glow of their phones, and I was just like, ‘This is the one place you go where that’s not supposed to happen,’” she said. “You know, they should be talking to each other, or dancing!”

Miller said the organization gets a lot of feedback and discussion from participants about the issue of cell phones here, “and I don’t think I got a single one that said, ‘I’m so glad I can use my cell phone there,’” she said. “What I got was, ‘I saw people riding across the playa, on their phones, like you see in San Francisco,’ and how they thought it was an intrusion.”

Of course there’s no law or rule against being on your phone, “but we do try to set an example by not being on social media while we’re here,” she said.

The estimates are that by Friday there will be enough people here to make cell service unreliable, so there won’t be many as Facebook updates or fresh Instagram photos. So I guess enjoy them while you can, because the genie goes back in the bottle soon.

While we’re on the subject of media: You all probably know of Burners.me, the gadfly site that writes extensively about Burning Man culture. We’ve debated the merits of the content there on numerous occasions, and generally we leave it to the reader to determine when the writer(s) are grinding an axe, and when they are simply reporting the news. We believe “caveat emptor” is the appropriate term.

The Man in the middle
The Man in the middle

But Burners.me did something we thought was really crappy this morning. They took a photo of ours from Facebook and posted it as their own.

Now, I realize that posting photos as public on Facebook has its risks. But, as reader Josiah Sean succinctly pointed out, “The easy and organic process of appropriate redistribution of personal works on social media is to hit the SHARE button, so that it is still connected to the author. Burners.me went through the effort of downloading the picture and reposting it so that all comments and likes and interactions would be associated with their Facebook page. #FuckedUp. This was a methodical and dishonest approach aimed at self-promotion and advancement … (and) it makes it that much worse.”

ExACTly.

The photo in question, of the Man being lifted into place yesterday morning, was NOT posted on the Voices of Burning Man site. It was posted on my personal page, and just lifted from there. So, Burners.me, do the right thing and take it down. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. It’s called stealing.

UPDATE: Burners.me has taken down the photo and offered an apology. They sent along a screen shot of the same photo that had been posted to the Facebook Burning Man page, where a Brian Romans first put it up. Now, the argument can be made that Burners.me just ripped off the person who ripped off me. But, “I do consider photos of Burning Man posted on the Internet to be fair use in discussing Burning Man,” Burners.me wrote in a message to us. “I’m not making money or trying to rip anyone off or claim credit for their work. Most Burners are happy to gift their photos to others.”

Our friend Sidney only had eyes for the Man
Our friend Sidney only had eyes for the Man

Ok, fair enough, but: 1) Lawyers get paid to decide if “fair use” includes using other people’s copyrighted work. 2) It would have been easy to attribute the pic to the person who originally ripped it off (although there was no “share” button available) (and we guess there was no intent to rip anyone off, just excitement about seeing the Man go up). 3) I think I gift as many photos as anyone. Maybe not the most, but probably in the top ten. 4) The larger point here, the teachable moment, for all of us, is to give credit where it’s due. We try to name the artists in any pictures we take of the art out here. Maybe you should too. And because you see something on the internet doesn’t mean that you can take it as your own. And yeah, we know, good luck with that.

There’s a changing of the guard going on at the Center Café today. The build team, aka the Oculus crew, is pretty much finished constructing the site, and the Décor team is about ready to make it all look pretty for you.

The Décor crew was out mooping the site this morning, something we hadn’t seen happening before. Betty Boop explained to us that they do the line sweeps inside and outside the tent three times a day now. “It’s easier to keep a handle on this as you go along,” she said, keeping her eyes peeled on the ground for Matter Out Of Place (moop) – screws, nails, bits of glitter, anything.

Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks

The line sweeps aren’t the only thing that’s new. Twin Peaks is the new head of the Oculus crew, the first time in our knowledge that a woman has led that team. “It’s different here,” she said this morning, talking about the gender neutrality of the place. Her assistant is Austintatious, and she’s new to the role, too.

Almost everyone on the crew is either new or in a new role. The only folks with institutional memory are Monkey Boy, who’s been one of the backbones of Oculus for as long as we can remember, and Stinger, who’s been the lead rigger for the past several years.

Rigging is a big deal at the Center Café. It is believed that the Café is the largest temporary tensile structure in the world. The shade covers nearly an acre of ground, according to Twin Peaks, and it’s a place of both refuge and entertainment just about any time, night or day.

These are the only times that you get to see the beauty of the structure itself, all geometric patterns and beautiful light and shadow. The Décor team will soon do its thing, and when the event starts, it is one of the finest places on the playa for people watching and people meeting.

Betty Boop on the line sweep
Betty Boop on the line sweep

Tomorrow they’ll roll out the rugs, and Thursday they’ll put up the flags. “The Café isn’t the Café until the flags so up,” Twin Peaks said.

The speed limit in Black Rock City has dropped to 10 mph as more and more people arrive. Many of the artists and bigger theme camps are setting up, and it was estimated this morning that there are about 5,000 people in the city. That’s a very unofficial estimate, though, and it should not be taken as authoritative.

We were out at the Temple of Promise, and we talked to Jazz, the lead designer of the piece.

Jazz designed the Temple of Promise
Jazz designed the Temple of Promise

It’s his first time building big art out here, and only the third time he’s been to Burning Man. What’s the hardest part about the job?

“One to five,” he answered. That would be 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock, when the heat is at its worst.

Jazz was awarded the Temple project honorarium the second time he applied for it. The first time was in 2014, when he read that proposal applications were due in 11 days. “I had an idea to make the Temple about transition,” he said. “So I got something that went from big to small. … And straight lines are kind of boring, so we put the curves in,” he said.

The lead builder of the Temple, who’s been playa-named Mary Poppins because he seemingly dropped from the sky to help them out, is also a newcomer. He’s built big art before, but not here, and it was his job to translate Jazz’s vision into something that could actually be constructed.

“Jazz designed the whole thing in a gaming software,” he said with a chuckle, “And, uh, there was no real relation of gaming software to architectural prints, so I took on the challenge of re-drawing the structure from the ground up.” And that was a continuing challenge; at the build site in Alameda, “I was on one machine, trying to keep ahead” of construction, he said.

Long view to the Temple
Long view to the Temple

Jazz is not the only first-time big-art designer out here this year. He and his Dreamer’s Guild team are new; Bree, the lead designer for Storied Heaven, is doing her first big piece, and Charlie Nguyen of the Mazu Temple and the Department of Public Art is doing his first big piece, too.

“We like to think that we’re establishing a new generation of artists,” Betty June said at the Artery.

More photos from around and about:

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The Mazu Temple at sunrise
The Mazu Temple at sunrise
Evenings can be just stupid gorgeous
Evenings can be just stupid gorgeous
Heather making sure the Man's boots stay on the ground
Heather making sure the Man’s boots stay on the ground
Andrew was framed by the walls of the Maze
Andrew was framed by the walls of the Maze
Bruiser handled the big crane for the big left
Bruiser handled the big crane for the big left
Up he goes
Up he goes
All lined up to watch the action
All lined up to watch the action
The Man in repose
The Man in repose
Most art projects start out looking like this
Most art projects start out looking like this
The arches of the Temple of Promise are all in place
The arches of the Temple of Promise are all in place
Alpheus gave us a lift
Alpheus gave us a lift
Spoono's car is still in the open playa
Spoono’s car is still in the open playa
Gary, Roo, Opa and Metal Shop Heather
Gary, Roo, Opa and Metal Shop Heather
A Dana Albany sculpture will be at the heart of the maze
A Dana Albany sculpture will be at the heart of the maze
Spoons for Spoono
Spoons for Spoono
A few members of the crew who did the lift
A few members of the crew who did the lift
The Man was still lit up with neon as the dawn broke
The Man was still lit up with neon as the dawn broke

Spoono, the Early Man, and finding yourself in the desert

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“The Spirit of Wonka,” Spoono’s iconic day-glo art car, was being towed up the 6 o’clock Promenade toward the Man on Saturday night. The sun had just set, and it was a silent, lonely funereal passage in calm desert twilight.

Tony “Coyote” Perez had hitched up Spoono’s rig to the Volare, the beat up, sorry-ass excuse for a car that he uses to get around Black Rock City. There was no one else with him, save for Matt “Starchild” Deluge, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of the art car, where Spoono would have been, should have been.

Soon, a few hundred or so people would be gathering for Early Man, where crews get ready for the final push of the build by burning effigies – some beautiful, some poignant – a miniature version of Burning Man itself. The Transpo team had made giant fly-swatter. The Commissary crew had made a giant greasy spoon. There were three giant Choco Tacos.

When it was fully dark, Dave X called for a moment of silence to remember Spoono. And then everyone lit up extra large sparklers that glowed red and green.

It’s ironic that this city, known for its debauchery and mayhem, will so often have its throat grabbed by sadness.

Maybe it’s the kind of people who come here. They leave big legacies when they depart, but they might not be the associated with great achievements of state or commerce. Let’s put it this way: People will always be telling great stories about the characters who have swung through this town who were wild enough and tough enough to leave their mark. And Scott “Spoono” Stephenson was one of those people.

Green and red sparklers for Spoono at Early Man
Green and red sparklers for Spoono at Early Man

No one seems to know with any authority exactly when Spoono first appeared in Gerlach or the Black Rock Desert. Most people say his first job in the area was in 2004 at Bruno’s, the frontier town casino, bar and grubhouse that’s the main sign of life for 70 miles in any direction. He worked as a cook there, and might have had several stints, coming and going as his frustration level waxed and waned.

No one ever heard the story of where he grew up, or who his parents were, or if he had any brothers or sisters. It was as if his life had begun all over again, in that most familiar American story of re-invention, when he came to Nevada. The version of Spoono that took hold here might have been more wholesome, but no less strong.

There’s talk that his past was … checkered. That he had moved with rough people, in dangerous circles. But even then, he always seemed to find the center of things, and to camp there and watch.

Mathew “Starchild” Deluge is the person who Spoono listed as his next of kin on his DPW paperwork. Starchild is actually no relation – just a person that Spoono felt close to, after working long hours over many months during the Burning Man season and afterward. They spent many hours together on the work ranch down the road from the event site, telling stories, being in each other’s lives.

Starchild is a thoughtful, philosophic young man who has a fondness for art, the desert and making things. He’s a crew leader on the DPW, and on the Resto team that makes sure we’ve left no trace in the desert.

Most recently, Spoono would visit him in Reno just about every day in the offseason. They lived about mile away from each other. He’d come by, pet the dog, just be there.

Spoono was one of the people who helped Starchild recover from memory loss issues after he had his own health problems. “He knew more about me than I do,” Starchild said.

Mathew "Starchild" Deluge
Mathew “Starchild” Deluge

They were working partners in Burners Without Burners in the New Jersey operation, when a team went to help out after Hurricane Sandy. Starchild believes Spoono was originally from New York, so he had a fondness and familiarity with the area.

Starchild was talking about the effect that Spoono’s death has had on Black Rock City, even on people who didn’t know him that well. He said it was like their reaction to a clebrity’s death. “Their work affected them in such a significant way, you know?” (more…)

Bugs? What bugs?

 

The skies were full of smoke today
The skies were full of smoke today

We’re a little out of words, because Black Rock City lost a good friend yesterday, and hearts are heavy. The pictures will have to do the heavy lifting.

But we’ll say this: The bugs are gone.

Ok, not every last stinking one of them, but pretty much. The swarms have dried up and blown away. People are working unmolested. Nature has run its course.

Yes, it was true, unknown bugs of mysterious origin showed up by the thousands or millions in Black Rock City over the past week, but the heat and the dryness have taken their toll. Larger insects came along, too, and there were plenty of smaller bugs for them to eat. Yesterday morning, we saw a small flock of birds down by the Depot, no doubt drawn to the area by the plentiful insect diet.

Please, though: The birds were not massing in Hitchcock-ian numbers. They did not line the trash fence, nor did they swoop and dive on us as we entered the commissary.

This is Stinger. You might remember the picture of her back covered with bites. She's better now. She's also the lead rigger for the shade structure at the Center Cafe, and a ship captain. She's more than bugs, brother
This is Stinger. You might remember the picture of her back covered with bites. She’s better now. She’s also the lead rigger for the shade structure at the Center Cafe, and a ship captain. She’s more than bugs, brother

They were simply here to play their part in the natural order of things. The smaller get eaten by the larger. The heat ended the infestation as quickly as it appeared, and the inches-high mounds were blown away by the desert wind.

Finito.

There were none at the Depot, none at the Center Café, none at the Man Base, none at the Temple, none at any of the places we visited a couple of days ago.

It’s all over. You can resume your packing. Sure, throw in some bug spray, because you never know, it could happen again.

There was a seagull out at the Temple site today. Two, in fact, but one flew away as we approached
There was a seagull out at the Temple site today. Two, in fact, but one flew away as we approached

(And it could rain. It could flood. It could be freezing cold or blisteringly hot. We could get dust storms. Winds could reach 100 mph. We could be stranded for days. And listen: We are not making any of this up. We are not hyperbolizing. Be prepared. Always be prepared when you come here. It’s called radical self reliance.)

It was pretty interesting, though, to NOT be a part of the media yesterday, but also to be a part of it, as the story. Just from the things we saw or heard about, our little report on bugs in the desert got picked up by CNN, SFGate, Gawker, Mashable, Rawstory, NBC News, Vanity Fair, Channel 4 in San Francisco, just to name the ones we

It was fascinating to see how the different outlets presented the same basic information, mostly based on the same slim details provided here. We were soooooo happy not to be a part of the 24-hour news cycle, where the identical facts are hashed and rehashed and then regurgitated again. We feel sorry for the lost souls who have to write and rewrite the sketchiest outlines of a story into headlines they hope will grab an eyeball or two. (Attn: lost souls: we say that lovingly; we’ve done the same or worse ourselves, many times.)

Loren out at the Temple had a good idea for all the critters: A petting zoo
Loren out at the Temple had a good idea for all the critters: A petting zoo

Most of the outlets used quotes just plain lifted from the blog. This was supplemented with Twitter posts and pictures. There was little, if any, additional reporting. Most of the outlets also used the photos we posted here, without asking permission (those that did ask were denied, according to Communications Director Megan Miller). By the way, the photos are copyrighted, with rights jointly held by me and the Burning Man organization.

We’d be assembling a legal team if we didn’t already know that the normal and customary fees for what would likely be called “freelance submissions” range all the way from nothing to about fifty or a hundred bucks. You don’t get the big money doing journalism.

So what the hell. It’s fine. It was a good story and lots of fun, even if it did throw a scare into people. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

But it was also predictable. After all, it’s Burning Man. You know, naked hippies high out of their minds, running around looking for the next person to have sex with. Then you add pestilence, and by damn god you’ve got a Biblical tale. God hath wraught fire and brimstone down upon Sodom and Gomorrah. It was a hard one to pass up. And very few outlets did.

(My favorite piece appeared on NBC.com. It used the same set of quotes and attributed them to “Burning Man organizer John Curley.” Burning Man organizer! Hey, I should get a raise!)

The Spires work goes on and on
The Spires work goes on and on

Anyway, the storm has passed. Little has changed. Life goes on.

And we don’t need any stinkin’ fire wraught upon our heads. We have our own fire, and plenty of it.

Loren out at the Temple had a good idea. “We’re gonna have a petting zoo,” she said. “Granted, it’ll be mostly insects.” But they could also include ravens, scorpions, black widow spiders, rabbits, seagulls and at least one owl, because we’ve seen all of them out here or in town in the past few weeks.

Nature. We love it.

And watch for the headlines appearing soon.

When the sun starts getting low in the sky, one of the best things to do is visit the Gate folks manning Point One. The other evening it was Clarity, Kiote, Tray and Kitty
When the sun starts getting low in the sky, one of the best things to do is visit the Gate folks manning Point One. The other evening it was Clarity, Kiote, Tray and Kitty
Choose a path and follow it
Choose a path and follow it