Last night at about 3:00 am, as the moon was fully eclipsed and thousands of people were celebrating out on the playa, someone set the Man on fire. He’s still standing, but he’s burned to a crisp. We had an emergency DPW meeting this morning at 9:00 to organize for action. It was optional, but a lot of people showed up. When I arrived, they were already strategizing.
I spent today with Harley Dubois, Director of Community Services and Playa Safety. As such, she’s in charge of one or two little things like:
* Theme camps & villages
* Ingress & egress
* Playa Information
* Earth Guardians
* Bus Depot
* Black Rock Rangers
* Gate & Perimeter
* Emergency Services
Like I said, just minor stuff. :-)
I met Harley at First Camp around 8:30 am, bedraggled after two hours of sleep, and she looked resplendent in white, radio in hand, running things efficiently and proficiently from a shaded table in front of her trailer.
At Burning Man, each department has a radio channel or several, and Harley moves between them as easily as a teenager flips through the cable stations. She is, throughout the day, responding to questions and concerns from her people in the field, making decisions quickly and dispatching solutions. She’s got a notebook in front her to keep track of meetings and appointments, but everything else is in her head, the result of 18 years of experience and probably at least part of the reason her radio handle is “Heady.”
First up is a meeting with Big Bear, Law Enforcement Liaison between Black Rock City and the BLM, county Sheriffs, and local police. He tells Harley that the BLM has been issuing citations for open containers more aggressively than years past, and that BLM interns were at the gate last night counting cars and occupants. There are also reports of BLM using binoculars to look into camps. They discuss the higher ratio this year of first-year BLM Rangers to experienced staff and what implications that might have. Also, the head BLM honcho from Washington DC is here, and that might make a difference. All in all, everything is going smoothly, and they plan to touch base later in the day.
A word on population and the BLM: when you give your ticket to the gate, they tear off the little stub and hand you back the large portion to keep. They take those little stubs and count them (by weight I think) in order to track population. Population is important for a multitude of reasons, one of which is the permit fee to the Bureau of Land Management. Burning Man pays the BLM $4 per person per day for the right to use the playa for the event. So everyone is interested in keeping track.
Next is a meeting with Marsha, Headmistress of Arctica and the Center Camp Café. This year there are two additional ice stations, at the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas, and they’ve been having problems with the drivers from Crystal Ice- some of them have never been here before. Now, I know for some of you getting around BRC is second nature, but if it’s your first time at the gate, you might have some trouble finding your way to 3:00 and Boreal- polar coordinates aren’t necessarily intuitive to everyone. Crystal Ice had to ramp up their staff and use more trucks this year, so they are busy trying to iron out the kinks.
During their meeting, Harley found out that the lines for ice at the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas were really long and interfering with traffic, while there was virtually no line at Center Camp Arctica. Hmmm, people seem to have found the new shops. Time to re-route ice and personnel. Marsha gets right on it, used to the pace after 14 burns. She oversees everything at Center Camp including lighting and décor, 1,000 volunteers at the coffee shop alone, and all the artists and performances. She bids adieu and promises to check in later.
Harley meets briefly with Dave Galat, head of handicap services, and reschedules a placement meeting for 11:30. She talks to Marian about issues and services at First Camp then meets with Miss Foam, the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) Executive Director they managed to lure away from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. During a brief moment of relative calm, Harley explains that she already met this morning with the gate and Seadog, who runs the Black Rock Rangers.
The Placement Team arrives and tells Harley that there have been a lot of border disputes between the camps. Shadow spent an hour and a half watching people try to take space at 3:00 and I, explaining the system as best she could between placements, and when she went back two hours later somebody had set up an entire camp right in the middle of the designated theme camp area and pulled out all the survey flags. They all agree it’s getting almost impossible to keep people out of theme camp spots. One suggestion is to open the gate at 8:00 am next year instead of midnight so it’s easier to see the survey flags and figure out where to camp.
The placement meeting ends with a round of swag for the group, and everyone heads back out. Harley and I walk over to the Senior Staff meeting and take a seat on a bench. Ever wonder what it’s like at the upper levels during the event? Well now you’ll know…
Joseph from Emergency Services opens with radio issues. Marian in particular has been having trouble with delays and inaudible transmissions. A lot of other people agree and Joseph handles their concerns one by one. Radio performance is critical out here.
Danger Ranger reports that the gate opened smoothly at 11:45 last night and that the Krishna Temple Camp at Estuary & 9:00 is getting press in India.
Odwally says that the DMV was busier on Sunday than usual and that there’s too much driving on the Esplanade. They need better signage next year since the Esplanade is off limits to motor vehicles.
Will Roger tells us that the airport is up and running with scheduled flights landing and departing daily. There is currently a Russian bi-plane out there.
Coyote has been on rumor patrol and has nothing of substance to report.
Cujo brought the group up to date on ticket sales and population and says that he was super impressed with the Burning Man staff at yesterday’s law enforcement meeting.
Bex reports the Regional Information Center is up and running with events scheduled during the week, and Steven tells us about Los Angeles and New York Regionals radio PSAs. He also mentions café performances and decompression schedules.
Mean Bean said the box office was hopping last night (Ya it was!) with six windows open and 50-60 people deep.
Kimmi and Robin reported briefly on HR and accounting.
Hazmatt told us all to look out for illicit potable water sales. Some company is driving around vending to participants.
Playground has been putting out fires (virtually not literally) and doing last-minute hiring.
Entropy started to speak but was interrupted by a loud round of applause for the gate. He said that they’ve got a great crew and 80 new volunteers. They burned a lot of sticks and twigs last night (no plants allowed), but otherwise things went really well.
Marian reported the arrival of a billionaire bigwig by helicopter for yesterday’s bike ride. She was also very moved by the professionalism at the gate last night and caring for volunteers.
C-Load gave props to Jake at the D-Lot.
Harley thanked everyone for working so hard and doing a great job.
Super said things are going really smoothly and heavy equipment is keeping up with demand. Marian chimed in that Support Services & Heavy Equipment are the heroes of the playa.
Camera Girl gave a quick summary of internet access and tech stuff.
Andie Grace told us to be sure and check out happy hour at Media Mecca.
Lady Bee said that the keyhole piece at Center Camp is excellent. (I think she means the bike sculpture.)
Marsha said that Center Camp Arctica is slow, the slowest start in years, due to new locations at 3:00 and 9:00.
Crimson Rose let us know that the Artery is up and running and very busy. They are a little bit behind at the Man Pavillion. Also, the cauldron is still missing and she is bummed. There’s an APB out for it, but no one has been able to find it.
Big Bear reported no major problems but told everyone that the #1 BLM Ranger is here from D.C. There have been some questions about surveillance and questions about federal versus state jurisdiction. People have been getting pulled over for no registration tags while they are driving on the playa and there has been a zero tolerance approach for any open containers in a vehicle.
Last to speak was Larry Harvey, and I’m just going to let you wonder…
Loose Chains and Steep Hills
Today was the day we got to ride Yellow Bikes (the green ones) en masse from the work ranch, formally known as Black Rock Station, to the playa. We were supposed to meet at the Depot at 3:00 and get a ride to the ranch, but there wasn’t much in the way of drivers, so a call went out from Dispatch to all comm looking for multiple cars or a bus to transport everyone to the ranch. Well, it just so happens that Doyle and I ran into my friend Joe Snider this morning on our way to get my car from Crane Camp. We were driving the Gremlin across the open playa after unsuccessfully looking for Joe’s camp near 2:30 and Freshwater, and Joe was driving his bus in the other direction. Joe had just arrived to BRC from Reno and had stumbled across my Subaru at 9:45 and Coral Reef. He left me a note on my windshield, and how the hell was I doing anyway? It was so good to see him!
So now I drove over to Joe’s camp and asked him how he felt about giving 30 or 40 people a lift to the ranch. He said sure and we scrambled to empty out the fully loaded bus. We managed to get most of the gear out of it, and then we drove over to the Depot. Half the DPW piled into Joe’s bus, and we headed out the 12-mile exit. I was stoked we made it up the hills considering the heavy load and the advanced state of disrepair on the old bus.
We disembarked in front of the bike workshop and greeted the crew. I intended to take a few pictures and go back with Joe, but I realized as soon as we got there that I couldn’t miss this ride. The first of its kind on community bikes most of us had helped assemble, and so many people jazzed to take part, including Jack Rabbit and all the Black Label kids. People were everywhere choosing bikes and taking them out for test drives, making adjustments to seat posts and handle bars.
Everyone gathered around a big flatbed so Travis could say a few words to the group, and then we were off. The first part of the ride was littered with people on the side of the road examining their bikes. Chains were coming off and seats were falling down. Minor adjustments all of them, and soon everyone hit their stride.
The ride was a blast. Some people were fast and some were slow. Some people were peddling like the wind, and some were cruising along at pub speed. Ray Posado was in a support truck up front, keeping an eye out for passing vehicles and making funny comments on the radio. Nipps drove the fluffer van and refreshed us with beverages and treats. Camera Girl and Game Show were driving beside the group, documenting the ride.
Jack Rabbit was awesome. She rode the entire time with a smile on her face, responding to radio calls and making sure everyone was safe and happy. For some of the taller riders, like Doyle and Sleep Dep, the average size bike frames were barely big enough to ride, but they powered it out. And for me, I started out slow but couldn’t help charging up the short hills, enjoying my first exercise in nearly a month, despite my poor choice of footwear (flip-flops).
Fifteen miles flew by. Before we knew it we were flying down the hill toward the 12-mile entrance, and everyone was laughing and cheering. We rode through town loudly and did a lap around Center Camp before heading down 5:30 to the Depot. Happy friends and cold beer awaited us, and we all celebrated this great new tradition.
One of the guys on the ride (I can’t remember his name!) told me that he had decided to cut off his dreadlocks at the Ghetto tonight because his experience at Burning Man this year had convinced him that he was over it. No more hippie hair for him. Well that wasn’t going to work at all, because once word got out, some scissors appeared and we all took turns snipping a strand off his head. It was awesome.
The whole experience was excellent, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. I had a blast and I think everyone else did too. I would definitely do it every year. Thanks to the bike club for making it happen.
The gate opened to the public tonight. You had to see it to believe it. Thousands of cars backed up to Wadsworth, filling up six lanes side by side on the dirt road two miles deep, all heading to Black Rock City. I was there, working the 12-6 shift, and it was a great spectacle.
Doyle and I drove out together just before midnight, and he went to help in D-Lot while I checked in with the gate shift leader. I’d be working with a team of three or four other people, responsible for lane number four. For every vehicle that came through, we had to take their tickets, search their vehicle, search their trailer, check art car registrations, and tear their tickets if they were good to go. We were looking for anything illegal- like firearms or drugs- as well as stowaways and unlicensed motor vehicles.
I worked the front of the line and received hand signals from people in the back, telling me which cars had already been cleared and which ones were mine to check. Jordan and I teamed up, one of us talking to the people and checking tickets while the other one searched the vehicle and trailer. It was cool either way, getting to chat with participants from all over the country or rummaging through their trailers and jumping up on top. Most people were super friendly, but a few were jerks.
There were hundreds of people in line at Will Call, picking up pre-purchased tickets or buying new ones, and hundreds of people in the D-Lot, trying to get out after waiting hours or days because they showed up early without prior authorization or because there was some sort of problem with their ticket/vehicle/camp. The tower and shade structure for gate headquarters was full of music playing and people working, eating, drinking, or hanging out with friends. There were light towers everywhere, shining on the gate and incoming vehicles. Just past the entrance, gate personnel with megaphones were shouting at people to drive slower and merge safely.
For those of us checking cars, there were six lanes of bumper-to-bumper headlights creeping toward us. Engines running and our voices loud enough to be heard over them. All manner of vehicles coming through, including wacked out school buses, art cars, and monster RVs that cost more than some houses.
First thing you do is ask the driver to put the vehicle in PARK, so that they don’t accidentally drive over your foot or move forward while your partner is on top of their trailer looking for illegal passengers. You have to move fast because everyone is anxious to get in, and you have to try and keep people in their vehicles so nobody gets hurt. At one point a woman jumped out of car and insisted I give her a spanking. “Look lady, I’m not a Greeter.”
Then there are the problems. There’s the guy with a dog in the front seat (not allowed) and no ticket who says a friend of his works for Burning Man and told him he could just show up and get in. Then there’s the guy with someone hidden in his rig, trying to sneak in. There’s the vehicle that stalled in the middle of gate road and the guy with two ATVs on his trailer, thinking he’s just gonna cruise around town on his three-wheeler during the event. Then there’s the guy whose friends are “a few” cars back, and they have his ticket. Then there’s the guy who doesn’t have his DMV printout, but if we just call so-and-so, they’ll vouch for him. Etc, etc, etc.
I have to tell you how amazing the gate crew is. All of them, but especially Spider, Entropy, and C-Load. They run the gate for the duration of the event, including set-up, 24 hours a day seven days a week. They have to handle all sorts of disputes and problems, and they have to organize all the shifts and volunteers. They made sure we had everything we needed while we worked, and despite the pressure and lack of sleep, they were always responsive and good-natured. Add to that the D-Lot cleared out in record time, and the gate opened at exactly 12:01, and you get an idea of how hard they work.
The gate crew caught 15 stowaways tonight and nine people at the perimeter trying to get in. (I didn’t find anyone, shoot!) The only other problems were reported by the BLM, who were pulling people over when they passed the Greeter Station if they saw anyone in the car with a lighter (could be a joint) or a beverage (could be a beer). Maybe this is an exaggeration, but they were being pretty strict.
We headed back to camp before sunrise, tired and ready for bed. I’ve got a 7 am meeting with Harley tomorrow, or today I guess, but I don’t think I’m going to make it on time. I’m beat and I need to get some sleep. Burning Man just started six hours ago, and I’m already wiped out. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
-Wanda Reduced Power
Today was the last morning meeting until after the event for the Black Rock City Department of Public Works. One of the things we talked about was the DPW parade next weekend. There’s going to be a barbeque at the Depot for ’07 staff and an open house of sorts for alumni and family starting at 3:00. The parade is set to start around 3:30.
At the meeting, Coyote stressed the importance of civility and respect during the parade, a message he’s emphasized consistently ever since the Golden Spike ceremony three weeks ago. He said we’re DPW and we built this city, and we need to show people our pride and unity, not that we’re a bunch of assholes. He said we have our own goddamned beer ($1000 worth in fact thanks to Face, of a favorite brand whose initials rhyme with pee bee are), and we don’t need to ransack camps, bully participants, engage in altercations, or respond aggressively to provocation in order to enjoy ourselves. If people want to be generous and thank us for our hard work, great. If they act like jerks, rise above.
I didn’t know Coyote before last month, but I know he was brutally attacked earlier this year in San Francisco. He’s doing much better now, but he suffered through a lot of pain. He’s still having trouble with his wrist and couldn’t pound t-stakes for the first time in ten years of putting up fence. The assault seems to have affected his worldview as well- you can see it when he talks to the DPW. He’s acutely in tune to the strength that comes with responsibility and the well-deserved pride that comes from hard work, as well as the delicate nature of good fortune and the blink-of-an-eye nature of life in general. His influence on this particular group is obvious- he wants them to recognize and embrace the same things. He wants them to grow.
Coyote wrote this message earlier this summer, a few months after he was attacked: http://www.brc-dpw.org/ I got tears in my eyes when I read it. It was the day I realized for the first time that Coyote helped shape my life before we even knew each other. You see, one night this spring I went out with my friends Joe and Ed in Reno. Joe mentioned that he wanted to stop by the Zephyr for a Burning Man fundraiser, and we said sure. There was a band playing and maybe 20 or 30 people there, and we were having a good time. Joe said he wanted to introduce me to one of his friends, and I said ok even though I didn’t care much because I was really into Ed and just wanted to hang out with him and Joe.
So Joe dragged me outside and dragged this one gal away from her group of friends and introduced us. Marnee, this Marian. Marian, this is Marnee. Well hi! We instantly hit it off and the rest of the world melted away while we gabbed and got to know each other. We had a ton in common and promised to keep in touch, and she even wanted me to go work for Burning Man. When Ed and Joe came out to get me, I left the bar against my will because I was having so much fun with Marian and I was really excited to talk about writing and the environment and the Green Man theme. And that’s how I got to DPW. That’s how I came to be in this great place and to work with these cool people.
The fundraiser at the Zephyr was a benefit for Coyote.
Back to the morning meeting and the stuff Coyote was talking about. With the idea that previous DPW parades have been pretty rowdy (to put it mildly), and they don’t want the same type of things to happen this year, DA is organizing a group within DPW called the Outriders. They will walk alongside the parade wearing red DPW t-shirts and keep spectators out of the way and potentially keep DPW in line. They’re the DPW Secret Service. DA continues to impress me. Is there anything he can’t do?
At this point Coyote mentioned that we need sober drivers for all the vehicles during the parade, especially since we’re expecting a couple hundred people to participate. Two hands went up. Everybody else just looked around. I love DPW.
Last but not least, Logan handed out the 2007 DPW Manual. He’s been waiting for it for weeks I think, as he pointed out with not a little sarcasm: “This will tell you what to expect when you get here. It will give you information you need to get ready for the playa. It tells you safety info. There are directions to Gerlach in here and rules for the trailer park.” It makes me laugh because I can hear his voice so clearly even now…
Theme Camp Placement
I spent the day with Shadow, seven-year member of the Theme Camp Placement Team. Never heard of them? Well neither had I. Turns out they are all powerful. The placement team matches registered villages and theme camps (all 660 of them this year) with their assigned spots in the city. They decide who lives where and how much space they get, including which blocks near the Esplanade get reserved for regular participants who arrive when the gate opens at midnight on Sunday. They are the first point of contact on the playa for big camps like Opulent Temple and smaller ones like Math Camp (a favorite among the fractal-loving set).
I met Shadow after breakfast at the 3:00 Plaza, epicenter of her world for five days of theme camp placement, during which she will sleep rarely and greet often. Her territory stretches from the Esplanade to the outer blocks, between 3:00 and 5:00, and she is always on call. She zips around in a golf cart responding to non-stop notifications from the gate and HQ, all the while keeping an eye on squatters and survey flags. She’s got 105 camps to situate, and they’ve been coming in around the clock since Thursday.
We spend the day meeting representatives from theme camps at designated locations in the city, making sure they get their coordinates dialed in. New camps need to be shown where the corners of their lot are- Shadow gets out and walks the edges with them to make sure they understand the system. Veteran camps are easy to place because they know the drill, and they all know Shadow. For example, one camp remembers that she likes pear flavored vodka. They present her with a bow-tied bottle as they take turns giving her a hug. I’m beginning to appreciate this whole “placement” gig. I’m nodding my head in dawning insight as I recall long hot days of t-stakes and fences…
Shadow has been coming to Burning Man since 1992, when the Man was on the ground and everyone camped within earshot. She started working the next year, and she still loves it. When today’s dust storm took a turn for the worse, we took a short break and headed over to her Airstream. Awesome! We ate brownie bites and drank cold sparkling water from real glasses. She invited me to their Airstream open house next week, where their whole block gets together for a trailer-to-trailer party in the afternoon. These people really know how to roll!
Turns out Shadow is from Reno. I’ve never met her before, and we’ve lived in the same town for years. Ditto for seven or eight other people she introduced me to during the day, including Machine and a guy with a duo-equipped flame throwing non-enclosed fossil fuel powered vehicle. As if that weren’t enough, I was riding back to my trailer along Freshwater at the end of the day when I ran into Dave and Delores Aiazzi. Hey you guys! They had just pulled in to their camp when I rolled up on my bike, and they gave me an icy cold beer. Thanks! We chatted for a while and they caught me up on Reno happenings while I told them about my adventures. I was so stoked to run into them and hoped I’d see them again.
Shadow and I took a detour out to Crude Awakening to watch the erection of the oil derrick this morning. It was spectacular. It took three cranes to hoist it, and everybody was pretty much mesmerized. Even Super Dave was on hand to watch (What could possibly go wrong?). The whole crew celebrated when it was over, and now, when the dust settles enough to see that far, everyone in Black Rock City will look out toward 1:00 and go: “What the f**k is that?”
A note on Crude Awakening: the oil derrick is worshiped by eight huge human figures sculpted out of metal, all with nighttime fire effects. According to Dan Das Mann, each figure emulates the prayer posture of some religious tradition. The entire project is a massive collaboration among 180 people including artists, carpenters, heavy equipment operators, welders, and electricians. They are building stairs to the top so people can climb up to the platform. It’s a big deal.
I moved my tent trailer this morning, from its former spot at BWB to its permanent locale at 5:10 and Freshwater. I didn’t even close it up, I just hitched it to the Suby and drove on over to the little yellow flag that says “Ambush.” There’s hardly anybody on my block, so I had to visualize my whole camp and figure out which way to put the trailer. I’ll miss the old spot and being so close to Carp, but I’m looking forward to my friends arriving soon.
While I was out with Shadow, I wandered into Arctica at the 3:00 Plaza. This is the first year that there’s more than one location for ice sales- usually it’s just near Center Camp- but this year they’ll be at 3:00 and 9:00 too. The Fistica team had just finished construction of the station- their last one- and they were celebrating. The whole crew was jubilant, and I was lucky enough to snap their photo. Here they are:
Tonight I went over to Crane Camp to look for my friend Teresa, but she hadn’t arrived yet, so I hopped in a Cadillac with Miss Dixie, Game Show, Camera Girl, Bruiser, Ghost Dancer, and Thumper. We headed to the gate for some good old fashioned fun. We met up with some other folks and caught up on, what… current events? We were sort of in our own little bubble despite the tide of early arrivers streaming through the entrance. Doyle came to pick me up, much to my delight, and we headed back to town in his art car.
This might be the only organization where people can wear anything they want and still be judged on the caliber of their work and dedication. Panties and bras, 4” platform boots, cornrows and corsets. Vests with no shirts, ripped up clothes, filthy clothes, and all manner of hats. Anything goes, as long as you do a good job. And out here on the playa, it all looks perfectly typical. Yesterday I was sitting at First Camp with a guy wearing a lingerie slip dress, zip ties in his hair, a beer cozy as a bracelet, and a radio on his hip. I didn’t even notice until a friend of mine pointed out the utility of carrying around zip ties.
At this morning’s meeting we talked about the completion of the solar array, the progress of the Community Bike Project, and plans for the DPW parade on Saturday of the event. Johnny Amerika and Rock Hard announced plans to fire up the Trebuchet for Doyle’s birthday tomorrow night. D.A. briefed us about plans for Playa Restoration. (Only ten more days til clean-up!) There were five separate sign-up sheets floating around, one for each project, only nobody knew which sheet was which because, in true DPW fashion, they were all blank. It was awesome.
I spent the morning with Support Services. This is the heavy equipment team, the crew with the Cadillacs. They are led by a guy named Big Stick and dispatched by a dude called Chaos. One of them goes by Bruiser, and when asked how he got the name, just says, “Look at me.” And don’t think for a minute that this is a men’s club. One of the operators is a tall smart beauty named Snatch. An orange-haired girl named Roo kicks ass on these machines. She has an amazing presence and a tool-laden, harness-assisted swagger when she’s working. These people are the rock stars of Black Rock City.
One of the DPW crews has been putting up spires for days, along the Esplanade and down each of the Promenades at 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00. During the dust storms last weekend the spires and signs are what got people safely through town. They were about the only thing you could see on the streets besides other vehicles that seemed to appear out of nowhere through the blowing dust. Today at 4:20 the spires crew finished the job with a well-attended celebration.