Posts by John Curley

August 11th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

And today’s task from hell: Intersections

Dylan was one of the leads for the work on intersections

Dylan was one of the leads for the work on intersections

We’re playing a little catch-up here, but we wanted you to know about the third step in the big three-step process of playa preparation, a hellish exercise called “intersections.”

You know how the city roads are laid out – from the Esplanade that rings the city out along twelve concentric streets named for the letters of the alphabet. Those streets are intersected by roads designated by clock points, from 10 o’clock around to 2 o’clock, with 6 o’clock being the center point. You can see a map of the city here.

So that’s all fine and dandy and neat and tidy, but in order for the grand design of the city to make sense, to be useful, what each of those intersections needs is … signs. And what each of those signs needs is … a stake to put it on. And what each of those stakes needs is … a pounding.

Yep, today’s fun task once again involves the torture device known as a stake pounder. And you’re going to need plenty of them, because there are 317 intersections, and each of them gets three or four stakes. Then you throw in the emergency signs that also must be put up and, well, you’ve got a lot of pounding. Again.

Booya and Dylan are the crew team leads, and Just George once again is in a leadership position. And their plans involved a new approach this year, one that threw the maximum number of resources at the task. Instead of letting people who had come together to tackle the fence filter off to separate crews, they kept a large number of them together to do the intersections.

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August 11th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Faces in the Desert

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We thought you might like to get a look at some of the people working in the desert to get everything ready for Burning Man.

We don’t have pictures of everyone, and we’re sorry about that, but we’ll continue to collect them as we move around. … You may have seen a few of them previously along the way, but here they are all in one place. And we’re sorry that we don’t have ALL the names to go with all the pictures, but we’re working on it.

So when you come out for the party and you see one of these folks, give a wave and maybe a thank you!

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Miss Marney likes to make things go boom

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Starchild

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Palinor and her equipment

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August 11th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Situation Back to Normal

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Leeway at the morning meeting urged the DPW not to drive over power boxes, because that turns them into desert art. Pretty, perhaps, but not very useful.

The day after the night before the rains came, things got pretty much back to normal. With maybe some exceptions:

1) The playa is in achingly perfect condition. The downpours have tamped everything down hard and firm. Because roads had already been mapped out before the rain came, vehicle traffic has been pretty much confined to defined areas, so much of the playa that had gotten chewed up in the early days is now nice and firm. This situation may change, of course, and there are still rather large mounds to negotiate around the city, but as of now, wow.

2) The hardships that the rain imposed have bonded crews together. “I have the tightest bunch ever,” Big Wig Mig said out at the Man base. “They’d do anything for each other.” That’s what happens when you get stranded in inches-deep water and have to spend the night in a shipping container with basically nothing. You get closer. (Or, I suppose, you tear each other to shreds. Fortunately, this was not the case.) “We’ve welded ourselves together with playa mud,” Muse said.

3) Crews may or may not be behind schedule. It’s honestly hard to tell, and no one is going to come right out and admit that they hey, we’re screwed. But if body language and general demeanor are any indication, the lost time is being made up nicely. There aren’t THAT many good actors out here. And Mig said he thought he’d actually picked up a day, because his crew was working as such a team now.

The road was crowded on the way to the meeting.

The road was crowded on the way to the meeting.

4) Traffic on and off the playa was re-routed for a day, to a new route dubbed “Dead Antelope Road.” Apparently a desert critter had picked that place to die, and in that it was on a dry path to the city, traffic started using that route. (We did go looking for the antelope, but we came up empty. It already might have been whisked away for eventual placement at the Black Rock Saloon. There’s already a big (stuffed) bear in there. A regular menagerie is coming together.)

So we’re about to head into Week Two with the distractions finally out of the way. Logan held his first on-playa morning meeting down at the Depot today, and he thanked everyone for persevering. “Thanks for keeping your wits about you,” he said. “Thanks for not panicking or freaking out or eating each other.” Read more »

August 9th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Yes, It Rained Again. And This Time We’re Frikken Jealous

There was a rainbow after the rain. Somehow we know that the folks in Black Rock City were doing ok. Maybe more than ok.

There was a rainbow after the rain. Somehow we knew that the folks in Black Rock City were doing ok. Maybe more than ok.

So your Johnny-on-the-spot correspondent is feeling decidedly not on the spot.

Because it happened again – another downpour has shut the roads in and out of Black Rock City. There are pools of standing water all over the place. Meanwhile, we’re stuck in Gerlach. Again.

As D.A. put it, “I’m not sure if they’re stranded on the playa as much as we’re stranded in Gerlach.”

It’s definitely the latter.

The day got a very late start because of yesterday’s storm, but another one came rolling in this afternoon at about the same time. It poured hard rain for a half hour or so. Some folks fled the onslaught, others hunkered down in place. Still others, like us, were not on the playa at the time and thus are left to sit in town and wonder about what we’re missing out there as we nurse a drink in Bruno’s.

True, today wasn’t nearly as dramatic as yesterday, but the effects were no less severe. Deliveries to the playa stopped. Work had to be put on hold. The planned move of DPW trailers from Gerlach to the playa had to be delayed, again.

No way out. Or in. Booya tried to get word via radio to the folks inside.

No way out. Or in. Booya tried to get word via radio to the folks inside.

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August 9th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

And Then the Rain Came

Thick clouds rolled over the playa late in the afternoon.

Thick clouds rolled over the playa late in the afternoon.

Well that was a kick in the teeth.

A hot but otherwise benign Thursday afternoon turned into a vicious reminder that hey, no matter how far Burning Man has come in mastering the art of event logistics, Mother Nature still makes the final call around here.

And the severe weather that walloped Black Rock City, trapping 160 people on the playa overnight, also was a reminder to take your preparations seriously. Be ready for anything, because anything can happen.

Thick black clouds rolled over Black Rock City around 4 in the afternoon, and within an hour there was severe rain, lightning, hailstones the size of quarters and flash floods that turned the commissary and Man base areas into muddy quagmires. All movement was halted, trapping the people who hadn’t headed back to Gerlach as the storm approached.

“I’ve been coming out here for 18 years,” Coyote said, “and I’ve never seen anything like this at this time of year.

“I guess it’s a new era,” he said.

The storm’s suddenness was shocking.

Heavy Equipment crew people working in the air had to scramble to shelter as the lightning began to strike. An almost-completed shade structure blew out like a cheap umbrella. Inches-deep water gathered within minutes at the Man base and commissary, the two places which had seen the most human traffic in the days since work began. And lightning struck an isolated container.

No injuries were reported as a direct result of the storm, though, and almost as soon as the weather blew in, plans were put into place to feed and shelter the stranded personnel and to accommodate the workers who had been expected to move from Gerlach to the event site earlier in the day. All passage to the event site was halted until at least noon Friday, to give the desert floor time to dry out Read more »

August 7th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

Status reports from everywhere

 

There's something big going on at the Man base

There’s something big going on at the Man base

At the end of day frikken two, there’s a giant obelisk at the Man base, there’s a wifi cloud at the Depot, a brand spanking new (to us) commissary tent has been erected, and eight and a half miles of Gate road has been staked and flagged. 

Does anybody ever take a minute off around here?

The answer would be no.

Coyote put it best at a stuffed-to-the-gills morning meeting at hot and crowded Bruno’s: It’s a simple fact that Black Rock City itself is the biggest art project on the playa. You’ll get no argument about that assertion here, so without further ado, here’s where we are and where we’re going:

 

Everybody wants their internet.

Everybody wants their internet.

TECH:

“Everybody wants their porn!” Cat joked as she watched one of her crew align a satellite dish at the top of a sixty-foot tower. But having the internet available out here provides more useful (yet no less necessary) functions. When your ticket gets swiped, computers need to talk to each other. When Gate shifts are posted, computers need to talk to each other. And if participant camps want to set up their own wifi cloud, computers need to talk to each other.

There are two sixty-foot towers already up on the playa, with dishes pointed back toward Gerlach and also at each other, providing a redundant system. If one goes down, the other is there.

It’s almost scary how much the tech team has grown, but that can’t really come as a surprise because some of the most tech-savvy people in the world come to the event. In 2006 there were five people in tech. Now there are sixteen.

And participants get the benefits, too. “If you bring a dish,” Cat said, “you can hop a network.” The techies will point your equipment and configure it to take advantage of what’s out here. So add a satellite dish to your packing list.

[Editor's note: If you're expecting to tap into a public WiFi, don't. Whatever signals are out there are gifts from participants who are providing it, and it's far from reliable. If you need reliable, bring a satellite phone.]  Read more »

August 6th, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC

And Here We Go

As the sun came up, the operation was well underway

As the sun came up, the operation was well underway

On the very first day in Black Rock City, the playa became a work site. It was not unexpected, but it was amazingly sudden. Where the day before there was only open playa and some flags in the ground, today there are roads and containers and traffic cones. The real hard work has begun.

There are a ton of DPW people in town. As the mission has grown, so has the workforce. Many folks are holed up in a trailer park in Gerlach, and the night before fence day is like Christmas Eve and New Year’s eve combined. There’s an almost religious affection and belief in this giant communal effort, and there’s the sheer joy and celebration of just being here again. So there’s excitement, and there’s awe.

“Can you feel it?” Slim was asking. “Can you feel it about to happen?” Yes we could, and we weren’t alone. Last call was 9 p.m. at the Black Rock Saloon, the private DPW bar in town. As Stinger put it to people who were rolling into town late, “Welcome to Burning Man, I’m going to bed.” But it was impossible to shut off the adrenaline. There were laughs and stories in the trailer park. But sleep was a good idea, because 4 a.m. was going to come early. And it did.

Just George tries to run things with military precision

Just George tries to run things with military precision

You may have heard that fence day is a back-breaker. But the not-so-secret secret is that it is also a blast. Imagine: Get up at 4 a.m., muster out to the playa in darkness, and then have bacon and coffee as light starts to color the sky. It’s another beginning, another new year. There are familiar people here, and lots of new ones, too. But there are also people you knew well who aren’t here. Just like in your real-world life, people come in to your life’s orbit, stay awhile, then move on. Or you move them on because the relationship doesn’t work anymore. The leavings are poignant and it’s not like you don’t think about them anymore, but they’re not here and you’re moving on because it would be ridiculous not to. You don’t have a choice.

So you drink your coffee and you eat your bacon (or go veggie if you prefer), and then you set off to pound the stakes that will hold the trash fence in place, with lots of whooping, singing and hollering the whole time.

The fence isn’t the only thing that happens on the first day on the playa; it’s just the most dramatic and picturesque. In baseball, they say that chicks dig the long ball, which is to say, they like home-run hitters. The stake pounders are a little like that (although unlike baseball there are many chicks in this mix). But the thing is, the stake pounders are the home-run hitters. They wrap themselves up in their colors to ward off the chill, they tape their hands to keep the blisters away, and they carry heavy metal pounders that make them look like Neanderthals, looking for something to club. Read more »

July 31st, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC, Photos/Videos/Media

The Desert Is Spiked

Coyote called people over to begin the ceremonies

Coyote called people over to begin the ceremonies

And so it begins again.

There was a howling wind on the Black Rock Desert on Sunday, and there had been driving rain the night before in Gerlach. But now the sun was blazing and the sky was magnificent as about 75 people gathered to drive the Golden Spike into the desert floor, the first official act of Burning Man.

It doesn’t just happen, you know. Many things must come together, many sacrifices must be made, for Black Rock City to rise. Jobs must be quit, leavings must be taken, and sweat will coat many faces before the festivities begin.

But this, this vast empty timeless place, this is what draws us first. This is the blank canvas. This is where it starts.

Like so many things about Burning Man, it wasn’t always like this. The desert is the only thing that hasn’t changed. Everything else has grown, become more ornate, become layered in ritual and remembrance. The first time a spike was put in the ground to mark the place where the Man would be built, there were only four people around. But now there were words to be said and liquor to be shared. There was a consciousness and intention about the work that was about to start, and the moments did not go unremarked on.

“Are we back here already?” Crimson Rose asked. “Did we ever leave?”

As the years seem to hurtle one into the next, it seemed indeed like we had never left. But again, just as there is sameness, there is difference, too. Last year there heavy hearts, the weight of sadness and loss everywhere. But this year, you could sense acceptance. Time has passed. Distance has been gained. Perspective, and maybe some wisdom, has been achieved.

Miss Stress gave the spike a mighty whack

Miss Stress gave the spike a mighty whack

“You are my friends 365 days a year,” Makeout Queen proclaimed as she held the sledgehammer above her head.

And even though there were laughs and hijinx, there was also a somber gratefulness that those who were out here had made it through another year. “I want to thank you all for staying alive,” someone said. “This year I dedicate this to the people who are here.”

And with that another hammer blow drove the stake a little deeper into the ground. One by one, people stepped up and said what they had to say. Some people were profound, some were sad, some were funny. But everyone seemed to respect the moment, and they were grateful. “I’ve been here a month,” Miss Stress said, “and I still look like this,” she said, pointing to her hugely smiling face.

But pretty soon it was all done.

The blank canvas

The blank canvas

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