Posts by John Curley

August 24th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

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

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August 23rd, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

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

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August 21st, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

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

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August 20th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

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.

August 20th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

The Final Piece

Heather practiced moving around inside the last Temple piece when it was still on the ground

Heather practiced moving around inside the last Temple piece when it was still on the ground

To hear Gregg Fleishman tell it, there was never any doubt.

Gregg is the creator of the Temple of Whollyness, the modern yet very ancient manifestation of the power and elegance of geometry. And this morning, the topmost piece of the 60-foot pyramid would be dropped into place. All the planning, all the measuring, all the careful calculations carried out on paper, on computer, and simply in Gregg’s head, would either work, or they wouldn’t. The thing would fit, or it wouldn’t. There could be no “almost.”

“I was a little cranky this morning,” Gregg admitted. “I was barking at people, ‘Do this, do that,’” he said. “I just wanted to get going.”

Lighting and Syn and Carmel, husband, wife and daughter, nervously donned safety harnesses as the crew prepared for the lift. Safety procedures were reviewed, crew assignments were made, questions were asked and answered. Then it was time to go.

“Ok, ok, huddle up,” J.J. said suddenly. He drew the crew around him, and he spoke his heart. “I just want to say thank you,” he began. J.J. works on the Temple build crew, and he also works in the camp’s kitchen. On this morning he had either forgotten to take off his aprons, or he had decided to keep them on. “Oh, look at him,” Heather teased, “making cupcakes and building Temples.”

J.J. spoke at some length with the bodies pressed close around him, hands clasped tightly above their heads. “I’ve had the best time of my fucking life out here,” he said, and a cheer went up, and then it was truly time for the lift to begin.

There always seems to be a special closeness among the people who come together to build the Temple, the most sacred (if that’s not too strong a word) of all the installations at Burning Man. They eat together, camp together, and work together, and they do it away from the rest of Black Rock City. The work – and the heartaches and drama – ultimately binds them together. They will never forget what they did here, and neither will we. The DPW crews that do so much of the other work here are rough and gnarly on the outside, but no less gooey inside. But the Temple folks are much more likely to acknowledge the spiritual nature of their work, and the intention behind their task.

And why not?

The Temple is the place at Burning Man where the people who are no longer with us are remembered and honored. It is a place of joy and sadness, but maybe most of all it is a place of stillness. We remember the people who gave us solace, the people who took us under their wing, the people who gave us the opportunity to redeem ourselves, and we thank them.

There is a great trust placed in the hands of the people who build the Temple, and they are mindful of that trust.

J.J. huddled the crew before the lift began

J.J. huddled the crew before the lift began

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August 19th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Taking a Hero Along for the Ride

Hero in the Fluffer truck

Hero in the Fluffer truck

Who doesn’t like a good dog story?

You may not have known it, but there are many dogs on site during the building of Black Rock City.


Now that that’s out of the way, we can tell you that yes, many DPW workers have dogs with them during the build. But you should also know that very extensive preparations and paperwork have to take place before that can happen, and even after the dogs are here, there is much care and special attention paid to them. Honestly, you would NOT be able to pull it off, so please don’t try.

But we understand. You love your dog. And you will miss your dog. And we think the dogs who are here are very lucky dogs.

There are almost too many dogs to mention, and each of them seems to reflect their owners’ personalities in ways that only dogs can. (Blondie and Red are inseparable, and Jake, who pokes his out of the camper next to us, has a Mohawk that matches his owner’s.) We don’t want to play favorites, but we will, anyway. We are especially fond of Hero, the wolf/Malamute mix who rides around in the Fluffer truck with Katelyn.

Hero is four months old, a striking shade of tan, and he seems to be socializing with other humans and other dogs quite well. He also seems to be growing about an inch a week, and he does that sideways walk that dogs do who haven’t quite grown into their bodies yet.

Socialization is very important for Hero, because as we mentioned, he’s got a lot of wolf in him. He’s mostly wolf, in fact.

“He’s really good therapy,” Katelyn says from the door of the Fluffer truck as Hero licks and nips at her hands. It’s unclear if she means that the therapy is good for her, or good for everyone who comes up to the truck. But there’s no doubt that you get a lift after being around Hero for awhile.

Hero has his own special place in the truck that has both shade and water. The Fluffer truck is an especially good place for him because there is lots of ice inside to keep water cold for the crews, so the temperature inside the truck is always moderated.

It takes a lot to keep a four-month-old wolf in line, but we’ve watched Katelyn working with Hero, and we’re impressed. “It’s really about dominance training,” she says. Which means that when Hero gets too rambunctious, she puts him down on his side and reminds him that she in fact is the leader of this pack. She never does it in anger, but she’s always firm. “The Dog Whisperer” would be proud.

You won’t see Hero (or any other dog) during the event. They will be moved to another location, because even the DPW dog owners know that the event is just too much for a dog’s mental health.

But Hero’s probably one of the reasons that the crews haven’t eaten each other yet. So even he has played his role in the building of Black Rock City.

Hero and Katelyn

Hero and Katelyn


August 19th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Some Big “Picks”

Teams guided assembled pieces into place at the Temple

Teams guided assembled pieces into place at the Temple

It’s such a weird deal to get an actual cloudy day in Black Rock Desert. At this time of year, it’s usually just plain sunny and hot. And dry.

But it’s a bit different today. There’s a heavy cloud cover, which we are all very thankful for. Yesterday was bad. It was scorching hot (estimates I trust put the temps close to 120 on the desert floor), and there wasn’t a breeze to be had. Perfectly still. And stranger still, the humidity was high. High temps, no wind and high humidity make for a very challenging day.

“A lot of people had that look,” Dan was saying in the commissary. It seemed like there wasn’t a crew that didn’t feel crisped by the conditions. You really do have to respect the desert and give it its due. The DPW handbook encourages everyone to allow themselves a day to get acclimated to the conditions, because you are not only in a desert, but you are also at 4,000 feet. The conditions can suck the life out of you. So here’s your pro tip for the day: when you get here, don’t go too hard too fast too soon, or you’ll wind up missing a lot of the week. Take time to get your bearings.

And this heat and exhaustion that everyone is feeling just makes the amount of work accomplished by all the work crews out here that much more impressive and amazing and worthy of respect.

There was some mighty big pickin’ going on yesterday, and we’re not talking about banjos. The big cranes were out at the Man base and the Temple, helping those crews get ahead.

The top pieces of the flying saucer at the Man base were being plopped into place, and the Temple was up to the fourth layer of six eventual levels. (The last two levels are being assembled on the ground and then will be lifted into place as a whole.)

One of the upper trusses was attached to the Man base

One of the upper trusses was attached to the Man base

We don’t think we’re being overly dramatic to say that what is happening at the Temple is just plain amazing. Giant pieces of the six-story pyramid are being maneuvered and cajoled and pried into place, all without a single nail or other fastening device. The genius of Gregg Fleishman is on display every single day. Imagine the most elegantly designed Lego set in the world.

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August 18th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

The Burn That Comes Early, and Other News

The early team from the Lamplighters crew hung lanterns on the spires on the way to the Man.

The early team from the Lamplighters crew hung lanterns for the first time this year

So we had a couple of big events over the past couple of days, and we are moving inexorably forward. The time has become impossibly short – the gates open in *gulp* seven days.

It doesn’t seem real.

We get this feeling every year, that “Oh my god there’s no way we’re going to get everything ready in time” feeling. There’s not enough art! The Man is still on the ground! Where is everything??

But it’s probably just us. Because Burning Man happens. Every year it happens. Like we’ve said earlier, it’s like someone pours Jamesons on the playa and the city and the art and the camps and the people just pop up overnight and before you know it things are in a full-throated roar.

But there is a cloud on the horizon, though. Actually, many clouds. The National Weather Service has issued a “hazardous weather outlook” for this area that will extend through Wednesday. They forecast showers and thunderstorms, with possible hail and wind gusts to 50 mph. It’s unsettling, at least to us, but not everyone is worried.

“I’ve seen big clouds roll in,” D.A. said, “and then when they get to the playa, pffff, they just go around us.” So let it be this year.

The playa is still in amazing condition from the rain that came the week before last. It’s firm in most places, with the occasional thigh-busting mounds. But overall, it’s really really good. More rain would of course foul things up royally for the artists, because they go into high gear this week. But for the playa, wow. Once it dries out, it is left smooth and hard.

And we hesitate to say it out loud for fear of jinxing things, but there has not be a single whiteout so far this year. Not one. The wind has been blowing, the days have been hot, and a dust cloud will occasionally blow through, but overall … beautiful. The nights have been warm and still. Couldn’t be more perfect.

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