Posts by John Curley

August 16th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

A Family Story

Sometimes sparklers can be even more fun than music

Sometimes sparklers can be even more fun than music

Burning Man is about a simple thing, really. The burning of a wooden totem in the shape of a man, his arms upraised in … what? Exultation? Supplication? Who knows? … Maybe his arms are raised because he just looks good that way. It doesn’t matter, really, and you can ascribe any meaning you like to it.

And maybe that’s how Burning Man has come to mean so many things to so many people – a rave, an art exposition, a grand human and civil experiment, one which only coincidentally happens to feature massive explosions and fire. But there’s more – the ten principles, written ex post facto to describe the values exhibited by participants: The radical self reliance, the radical self expression, the communal efforts, and the immediacy of the experience.

Still, much of Burning Man began simply, as a simple response to direct need, and yet now is layered with ritual and remembrance.

Another of those Burning Man rituals takes place tomorrow night, the early burn, where crews gather to burn their own stylized effigies, meant to symbolize their specific participation in the event. A giant radio, perhaps, or the replica of an office, or maybe even one giant stake pounder. Again, who knows? … It’s up to the people involved. But there will be something different this year. Someone will be missing. And that absence will say a lot about the nature of Burning Man, and the people who attend.

A million years ago, when Burning Man was still wild and untamed, there were no fluffers, there were no radios, there was no commissary. You took your shade by the side of a truck, and if that wasn’t enough, you climbed under it to get out of the sun.

You entered a Black Rock desert that did not have roads, and certainly did not have thousands of bright orange cones lining the way. There was only blackness and the scribbled directions that said to get off the highway at a certain spot, travel six miles east, then turn left. It was terrifying and strange, just like the people you were with.

Eventually, though, order had to be pulled out of the chaos if the event was going to survive, and so a navigable city was laid out. The center of the city was always marked with a stake where the man would eventually stand.

“But we could never find the damn cone” that marked the stake,” Coyote remembered. “We’d have to go back to the ranch in shame and defeat.” To rectify the situation, Peter Mars, who at the time worked in the wood shop, constructed a four-by-four triangular-shaped man that the survey crew could put on top of the stake that marked the center of the city. But everyone grew fond of the the early man, and when the time came, they decided to give him a proper, that is to say flaming, sendoff. And thus the early burn was born.

You're never too young to learn how to play

You’re never too young to learn how to play

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August 15th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Our Meetings Are Better Than Yours

Logan reads maill call

Logan reads mail call

The morning DPW meeting is half performance, half communication of vital information, and half social catch-up time, which means that the meeting is greater than the sum of its parts.

DPW people are pretty good about making it to the early morning meeting, which is held at the Depot, way out at the end of the 5:30 road. They get reports from department managers, general staff messages, and news of upcoming events. It’s a good way to find out what’s happening in other parts of the city, because when you are assigned to a crew, you tend to get a myopic view of the world. You know only your task.

So the morning meeting is where you hear that the Russians are coming (and building a major art piece on the playa). You hear that a French filmmaking crew is recording a 3D Imax movie.

“They don’t speak much English,” Bettie June said, “but they’re very nice and they don’t want to get in the way. So if you need them to move, they understand that, and just tell them.”

Brainwaves lit up everywhere. A non-English-speaking crew will move if you tell them to? Imagine the possibilities. But Logan picked up the vibe immediately and said,  “I don’t want to rain on your parade, but don’t do that.” Groans all around.

Makeout Queen, who does a million things for a million people and is so busy she needs her own Makeout Channel on the radio, got up to say that shower swag would be bestowed upon people who behave well at the communal showers. By behaving well, that means not doing things you shouldn’t do there – no sex, no clothes washing, no washing the dog, no hair dying, no leaving hair in the drain, that kind of thing. She might have had more to say, but she got “crocodiled” at that point and had to sit down. (“Crocodile” is the radio safe word established by King Louie: If you take too long to say what you have to say, it is acceptable for others to break in and say “crocodile,” meaning finish what you have to say and get off the  channel. Of course, Louie was crocodiled for taking too long to explain it all.)

Makeout Queen was eventually crocodiled.

Makeout Queen was eventually crocodiled.

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August 14th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Things Are Heating Up

Burning Man: Not for the feint of heart

Burning Man: Not for the faint of heart

It’s hot. It’s damn hot. Not so dusty, but damn hot.

“I’ve seen a lot of people with that thousand-yard stare,” Logan said this morning. “Watch yourselves out there.”

The temperatures in Gerlach reached the mid-90s, but it was well over 100 on the desert floor. The wind was blowing, so if you could find some shade, things weren’t too bad. But shade is something you have to search to find. So bring some of your own when you come.



The moon setting over the hills; those lights in the distance are from Gerlach

The moon setting over the hills; those lights in the distance are from Gerlach

We went out to catch the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower, hoping that the dark desert skies would give us a fine view. But the night was a bit dusty, and the light pollution from the city already has changed the night sky dramatically.

We started out at Point One and saw the lights from the what we believe to be the  Hycroft mines glowing in the distance. Then we went down to the other end of the city to catch the quarter moon sinking behind the hills. Read more »

August 14th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

The Signs Are Good


Heather, Jen, and Abby were out at the work ranch getting signs ready for Black Rock CIty

Don’t you love reading the Burma Shave signs on your way into the city? And aren’t you grateful that you can look up at an intersection in the middle of the night and figure out exactly where you are?

There’s a charming and hard-working crew to thank for that, and we made a pilgrimage out to the Burning Man work ranch to see how they do it.

The first thing that strikes you is the order of magnitude of the work: There are thousands of signs to be stenciled and printed and assembled. There are spray cans everywhere, and a giant computer printer is spitting out vinyls that have to be trimmed by hand, then mounted onto metal backing.

And with Opening Day breathing down their necks, you’d think the stress/frustration/tension levels would be well into the red zone. But nope. Not here. Jen, Heather and Abby are bent down over their work, but they clearly enjoy each other, and the task.

They are ensconced in a tree-shaded corner of the work ranch, which is about 10 miles down Route 447 past the entrance to the event site. It’s out beyond where the highway pavement ends, and the only thing you can hear is the rustling of the wind and the music playing softly from a boom box in the corner. It is not a bad place to be.  Read more »

August 13th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Meanwhile, at the Center Camp Cafe …

Pigpen held up the crew's signage in front of the Center Cafe build

Pigpen held up the crew’s signage in front of the Center Cafe build

Like so many of the crews and departments this year, there’s been a big turnover in the Oculus crew, the people who build the Center Camp Cafe. Some of the alumni have gone on to bigger and better – Niko Peachez is helping to run the ranch, and Goatt is out on the Man Base crew, building one of the most challenging designs ever.

Karl Not Karl is taking a year away from DPW, but Austin aka PigPen is back this time around after a year away. Monkey Boy keeps soldiering on, and he’s been with the Cafe crew since 2002. “It’s the best job in town,” he says simply.

At the helm this year is the guy they are calling King Pole (real name Paul King). He’s one of the more surprising additions to DPW this year, because for the last couple of years he was operations manager for the Gate. You have to understand, there’s not much cross-pollination between Gate and DPW, rivalries and competitiveness being what they are. But it would seem that is all subsiding, at least a bit. There’s a fair number of former DPW who have moved to Gate, and vice-versa.

Probably no switch is more surprising than King Pole’s, but he’s made the move appear to be the most natural thing in the world. Maybe that’s because so much of his life is inextricably linked to the playa.

King Pole made the switch

King Pole made the switch

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August 13th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

More Reports From All Over

The playa surface is mostly smooth and firm in BRC, but there are still plenty of mounds to negotiate

The playa surface is mostly smooth and firm in BRC, but there are still plenty of mounds to negotiate

Black Rock City is just a busy beehive these days. The weather’s been great (wish you were here), and momentum is building. It’s hard for us all to believe, but the gates to the city open in *gulp* 12 days. How is THAT possible?

Heather was talking about it out at the Temple the other day. Burning Man is something that always seems like such a long time away. You have the whole year to think about it, and then there are months and months to make grand plans and get yourself ready.

“And then whoooosh,” she said, “It’s right in your face.” And that’s where we are now. It’s here. It’s in our face. We can almost feel you breathing down our necks, dying to get back to the playa.

So we’re going to take a deep breath, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and try to remember that it’s all going to get done. The city will be ready for you.

So with that as our prelude, here’s a roundup of what’s happening from here and there:

The Man Base crew got together after work.

The Man Base crew got together after work.


There’s something very special going on out at the Man Base. As we’ve noted earlier, the rain and mud early in the build has bonded this crew together. And good thing, because there’s lots of work going on, and still lots to be done.

The work begins every day at dawn, and it continues until dusk. Remember, this is a very ambitious project: a giant spaceship upon which a rotating Man will stand, plus ramps for you to slide down. The bigness is mind boggling.

There are 19 people on crew now, although it’s likely that number will swell. The crew is camped together in the Ghetto, and they seem to move around the playa as one unit.

They gathered on the second story of the structure at the end of the day to share a beer and look out over the glowing landscape. It was one of the last days to enjoy the truly open playa, because artist camps will begin moving in Tuesday to set up their installations.

The days have been long, but there’s humor about it. “Hey, we’re only working 12 hours a day,” someone said. “Half a day is no big deal!”

Goatt, who used to be on the Center Cafe/Oculus crew, is among the more enthusiastic and seemingly tireless workers on site. He’s like some Kerouac character from “On the Road,” constantly moving, constantly talking, constantly philosophizing. Read more »

August 12th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Construction as Art

Cones marked places where posts would go into the ground

Cones marked places where posts would go into the ground

Coyote said the other day that Black Rock City is the biggest art project on the playa, and we totally agree.

Sometimes the things that are strewn around the playa in the course of building the city look like installations.

Here are a few sights from around the playa over the past several days:

The yard at the Heavy Equipment camp

The yard at the Heavy Equipment camp

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August 12th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

The Old and the New

Coyote, Lightning and Booya take the measure of things at the Temple of Whollyness site

Coyote, Lightning and Booya take the measure of things at the Temple of Whollyness site

There was a clash of cultures out at the Temple the other day, as the old and new ways of doing things met face to face, shook hands, and went their separate ways.

The Temple crew has embraced technology and all its many charms. They’ve even named the Autodesk company as one of their contributing artists (there are four others as well, and we’ll write more about them in later posts.). The main reason Autodesk was included was because they lent a sophisticated – and very expensive – piece of equipment to help the crew map out and survey their very complex and geometrically precise design.

“Some of their executives had been out at the Otic Oasis,” Gregg Fleishman, the project lead, said. “They couldn’t believe we designed it without computers.”

But that was then, and this is now. And there were Fleishman and Lighting, way out in the playa, laying out the survey and dropping the flags that would guide the construction. The technician running the Total Station Robotic device was having some difficulty plotting his points. It is a marvelously complex device, capable of determining exact locations to within a hundredth of an inch.

And then DPW survey veterans Coyote and Booya came rolling up to see how things were going.

While the tech was still fine-tuning his machinery, Coyota, Booya and Squirrelly got to work surveying the camp and parking areas. Lightning came over and started planting flags based on their measurements. The DPW folks were using nothing more sophisticated than tape measures and some Pythagorean geometry to get their measures and square up their lines. They moved quickly and easily, eyeballing straight lines when necessary. Read more »