[Tony "Coyote" Perez first set foot in Black Rock City in 1996, where he immediately went to work, ultimately becoming the Department of Public Works' Site Manager. He is renowned amongst the staff as Burning Man's Poet Laureate, as well as being an accomplished saxophonist with his band "Second Hand Smoke." This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]
Our twin boys turned two this spring. How much do they see already…? I’m carrying one boy down the hallway of bedtime and he points to a newly hung Black Rock City plan on the wall from years past. “CLOCK!,” he says. Wow, I’ve lived in that clock for so many years that it took a two-year old to remind me that it was a clock. It was always a clock, wasn’t it…?
Skydiver Over Black Rock City, 1996
When I showed up in ’96, that “communal geometry” was just starting to congeal. On the advice of my buddy/guide that was schooling me on how to “play” this thing – this Burning Man place – we showed up early to help set the “thing” up. (Early meaning about three days early…) No fence, no gate, no DPW, no commissary, no wrist bands, no lammies, no cops…. no clock. But it had form. It had a definite form. Looking back, it was like looking at an embryo. One could just start to detect the spine and budding limbs of hazy districts. They showed all the promise to one day be streets and neighborhoods. And toward the mid part of the camps, maybe the beginnings of grey matter – and maybe a brain stem.
And at the center, the translucent squirming of its beating heart – an icon doomed to be burned.
The Man As Seen Through the Camera Obscura, 1996
I had been artificially awake for three days and had just made a scattered and hectic launch from the city’s gravity. I would have been finding the inner meaning of bus tires at this point…
And to then be out there for the first time.
I was a snowflake in hell.
“Let’s stake down here with Will and Crimson at Check Point Station. Then we’ll be in on the tip! Hurry and set up your tent – they need our help putting up these spire lamps that are going to line this road that’s going to lead out to the Man. Pretty cool!”
“Yea – sure – whatever you say – our gallon of water is getting low. I’m not hungry but I guess we should eat.” I was feeling overdosed, badly frayed, and washed out. My brain was a thrown-off hub cap in a b-grade chase scene. “I think I see sharks in the distance.” Hunter S. Thompson was coming to mind.
Tom Kennedy's Shark Car, 1998
We now have full fleets of trucks, semis, fork lifts, cranes, heavy equipment, ranch and crew, and the fortitude of powerful armies, but back then… I remember Will putting around on a mini bike, carrying form stakes from quadrant to quadrant as Crimson picked them up and paced them out on what would be the three radial roads. And intersecting these roads was to be an inner ring road. Even then it was already a clock. Just no numbers on the dial yet. I woke the next day to the amazement of cruise traffic! The roads were working. It was the slow low parade of a raw and raunchy BRC in the rough, sharks and all! It was a blood stream of madness brought right to your camp. It was the ticking second hand of Clock Town.
Hunter S. Thompson would have liked it, I’ll bet…!