Back when the Man’s knuckles still scraped the ground as the Earth’s crust cooled, there was no official setup and cleanup crew. There was no official anything. As the years have gone on — this writer joined the DPW in 1998 — we have built from scratch an annual temporary city and a rock-solid worldwide society, fanning out over the ‘90s and ‘00s from amorphous clumps of mayhem into an intricately-designed temporary autonomous zone requiring some half-zillion volunteers who come early to set up the whole thing, and a full zillion DPW and Gate/Perimeter folks to make Restoration happen. (Which we used to just call “cleanup,” but that wasn’t specific enough.)
Not to toot our collective clown horns too much, but even governments and disaster-relief agencies come to Burning Man leadership for protocol now in building and striking large sets, organizing masses of people and traffic, and crowd control for people who generally don’t like being told what to do.
Hordes of #Occupy organizers from around the country were calling in to the Burning Man offices during the height of #OccupyWallStreet, asking advice on how to move and maintain the throngs of GenXers and millennials who flooded the streets seeking change. A lot can happen with a countercultural movement if you start with a blank slate and a bunch of kinetic energy.
We come to Burning Man to slam into something harsh — to make ourselves tougher. Some go harder than others. Those who go hardest pick up the inevitable detritus left behind. (more…)
There were so many things to like about the Temple of Grace burn last night, it’s hard to pick a favorite moment, so we won’t even try. We’ll just tick off a list of things that were just about perfect:
— The weather was calm, warm and dust-free. The sky deepened from pink to purple to blue to black, and by the time night had fallen, the fire from the Temple threw a warm orange glow on everyone’s face.
— The crowd was unusually respectful. There were many art cars lining a perimeter circle, but, as in years past, their sound systems were turned off for the burn. There were few, if any, raucous outbursts that would have changed the mood.
— Marisa Lenhardt Patton sang “Freebird” as the fire was lit, a fitting nod to the DPW’s fallen brother, and an echo of what happened two years ago, when a blaring version of that song offended many in the crowd. This time, it was only a single, beautiful voice. That song was followed by the Doors” “The End.” And then there was only silence and the sound of the fire.
— David Best his own self actually asked a Ranger to lower her voice as she was telling the crowd what to do and where to sit.
— Similarly, David made sure that all of the people who were privileged enough to be in the inner fire circle were sitting on the ground so that the crowd that had gathered behind them would have a good view, too.
— When fire engulfed the structure, it collapsed in the most graceful way possible, a half-twisting pirouette of flame and wood and embers. The Temple of Grace, indeed.
The fire lasted just about as long as seemed appropriate, and when the fire perimeter was dropped, the crowed moved slowly forward toward the flames. Best left the people he had been sitting with and called out, “Maggie! Where’s Maggie?” and went off to be with his wife.
The smell of sage and copal became thick in the air, and people pulled picnic blankets and food and drink toward the smaller piles of embers. They joined together to share what they had brought. (more…)
The big Man is just a pile of smoking ruins now, even if people are still picking through the ashes, looking for burnt treasure.
We imagine that the biggest treasures have already been scooped up – Joe’s big nuts and bolts, the ankle and shoulder metal, even the cables and anchors that kept the Man upright for so long.
This year’s burn went longer than most. He was a mighty big Man, after all, constructed of 20×20-foot limbs and spine, and the whole thing took awhile to consume, which was not unexpected. You build a big man, you get a long burn.
We don’t have a problem with a long, slow burn. It has its advantages: More time for visiting, more time for appreciating, more time to soak in the flames. We can think of many times when we have been reluctant to be the person to douse the flames at a campout, because there are times that we don’t want the night to end.
But we admit that we were waiting for the Man to fall last night so we could escape the sound. Yes, yes, we know the saying, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” and maybe that’s true. But honestly, we always thought that one of the corollaries of radical self expression was that your actions not impinge on another’s experience, and let’s just say there was lots of impinging going on last night. We do not expect to hear a DJ exhorting a crowd in a way that might work at spring break in Daytona Beach, but doesn’t work on the playa. At all.
Plus, we’d like to be able to HEAR the burn. Not just the exploding shells and fireworks, but also the crackle and pop of the flames, the whoosh of embers falling, and, last night, even the climactic crash of the Man’s big legs.
But no. Last night that was not possible. And yes, we might be the slightest bit cranky about it. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be sound and celebration, because this is the big finish, the Bacchanalian moment. But there’s got to be a way that the sound cars don’t take over the experience. It’s not your show, comma, dude.
The night began as it always does, with Crimson Rose transferring the flame that has been burning at the top of the keyhole in the El Diabla cauldron since Monday to the Luminferous, the wagon that carries it to the Man. A grand procession of flame-carrying stilt-walkers and drummers and Black Rock citizens processed up the 6 o’clock boulevard, then made a circle around the giant Man. When their circuit was complete, it was time for the Man’s arms to rise so that the fire conclaves could commence their show. (more…)
Working DPW and Gate at Burning Man has given many of us on staff our first taste of what it feels like to be an Enforcer. Of any type. In order to build and run a city out of thin air, sometimes a bunch of anti-authoritarians have to figure out how to tell other anti-authoritarians what to do, in the way we’d like to be told ourselves.
We workers are enforcers of necessary rules like: Don’t bring your guns or dogs here, don’t run towards the burning thing, and what if you’ve tried to stow away a hippie and now they’re suffocating underneath your bad plans.
Yes, it can be fun to role-play alpha tribe-protector out here, all fancy with a radio. Yes, the Stanford Prison Experiment was real, and we’re sure the lead Black Rock Rangers have had to pull some “excited fake cop” people off their Burning Man Ranger routes and take their radios away. That’s human nature. Working through it is what happens next.
For us regular blue-collar workers in Black Rock City, sometimes in this heat we get to feeling harsh, whether from a long work day, a few bad apples’ stupidity, or their mis-assumption of our stupidity. Worse yet, sometimes, as Enforcers, we harsh someone who doesn’t deserve it, because someone else tried to run and hitchhike through fast-moving intake lanes just a minute ago.
So the workers of Black Rock City have a heightened sense of empathy for Burning Man’s law enforcement. In Black Rock City, we have DPW who builds and stewards the town, we have Rangers who walk around and interact with the community, we have Emergency Services which provides medical and fire protection to anyone and everyone who needs it, and we have Gate and Perimeter as our internal “border security.” Together, these Burning Man departments handle all the regular, run-of-the-mill problems a society might have, such as power outages, dehydration, or domestic disputes.
Then the big guns are also here — the BLM and local law enforcement — whenever we need them.
We have always been glad they’re here. We workers have dealt with some scary shit, and while we talk a big tough game, DPW doesn’t know what to do with a transient one-armed man who’s wandered in from the desert during setup 2003, bleeding from his crazy-eyed head, talking about having just murdered a friend and his dog. Uhhhh, that’s beyond our scope of knowledge and ability.
We call the cops. We need cops. End of story. (more…)
One of the things about Burning Man is that one day seems like three; when you think about what happened early in the day, it almost seems like it happened yesterday, or even the day before. So much happens in the course of 24 hours.
So you can imagine what it is like to try to remember what happened yesterday: It seems like last week. So today, when we rode around the playa and explored the art and it wasn’t too hot and there wasn’t any dust, we could only be grateful for the rain that made things such a mess the day before.
(This post is going to be annoying if you don’t like Burning Man or are only interested in what can be done better. There won’t be much criticism, because right now we can’t think of any. Today was the kind of day that makes us like the event.)
So we’ll pick our story up where it ended a day ago. When last we visited, the rain had slammed us, but then had gone away. The sun had come out by midafternoon, and the puddles started drying up, and there were rumors that Gate Road would soon open up. That apparently happened around 6 pm for the people who had been stuck between the gravel of Route 34 and the entry gates. After those people made it into the city, traffic control people started telling the folks who were stuck out on the highway that it was safe to travel. Then the ok was given to the people in Gerlach, then presumably the green light extended all the way to the 447 exit off of Route 80.
We heard stories of the spontaneous parties of people trying to make the most of being stuck, of being participants at Waiting Man, and we also heard of horror tales of the hours it took to get through the lines. Louder Charlie said he heard the longest it took for one person to make it from Gerlach to Black Rock City was 29 hours. Oof.
The population at midnight the night before last was 27,900; by midnight last night, there were 38,400 people in Black Rock City. So a little better than 11,000 folks made it through the gates by midnight Monday, the day of the big rain. But last night the city still felt small and intimate. That might have been because the recent arrivals were still setting up their camps, not going out and about.
As evening fell we went for a stroll. We ran into people we knew, which is always a happy thing: Just when you think that everything is getting too crowded, you have a reunion on the playa and it all seems like a big family party again.
We finally made our way out to the Man and wandered around the tent-like souks for a bit. The souks really were a philosophical and aesthetic risk this year; there was a lot of affection and community-building around the Regional Projects, which the souks effectively replaced. But for us the move worked on two levels; the playa area around the Man felt more open and spacious, giving the Man the space he needed to have the most impact. Plus, the souks created a gathering place at the base of the Man. It very much felt like we were in a marketplace, at least of ideas, as we were making our voyage. Canvassary, indeed.
Most of the souk displays are interactive. You wandered in and someone asked you to do something or explore something. We wandered into one souk that featured a terrycloth camel about eight feet tall. A woman was seated underneath the camel, almost as if she were milking it. You were encouraged to reach inside the camel’s udder, and there were fingers in there. So we pulled them as if we were milking them, and before we knew it we had a handful of special fortune cookies. The one we opened said, “Art is what you make other people see,” and we liked that very much.
We came back to Media Mecca, right there on Rod Road near the Center Café, where all the visiting press checks in. It is also where we call home, and this year it has a décor designed and implemented by Phoenix and her crew. It has elevated our surroundings to a new height. There are handmade Arab-y turrets and smooth flowing fabric everywhere. Window art boxes are framed by geometrically cut CDs, and the color scheme on the interior and exterior walls picks up the reflections cast by the CDs. Who knew there were so many beautiful pastel shades of purple and blue and green, and that they could be interwoven so beautifully.
Today we had an ambitious day of going to more Burning Man. We got our bikes, went to a friend’s camp, had some refreshments, and set out.
As Peanut put it, Burning Man pressed the “pause” button today, as heavy rains and hail prevented people from getting in and out of Black Rock City, caused widespread power outages, and intensified the misery of people waiting in the “will call” lines at the box office.
The gates to the city officially opened at 10 am on Sunday, and for most of the day it seemed like the event was off to a pretty good start, despite harsh weather during the build that forced everyone to hustle to catch up to schedule.
Things got further off track as Sunday progressed, though, with horror tales of people spending as many as eight hours in the will-call line. The scene at the gate last night was unprecedented. As people wound round and around waiting in line on foot to pick up their will-call tickets, there weren’t any cars ready to be processed through the gate.
It almost seems like there’s a new challenge in the ticket system every year, and this year it has been the backlog at the will call window. Nimbus, Burning Man’s ticketing manager, said in her seven years with the organization, she’s never seen so many people arrive at the will-call window in such a short time frame.
Megan Miller, Burning Man’s director of communication, said, “There are a lot of factors that we’re looking at. Some of it is in our control, and some of it isn’t.”
The contributing factors include the number of tickets that are sold electronically and require a check-in. Those include the 3,000 tickets that were sold in the “oh my god” final sale in July, the 4,000 low-income tickets, and the increasing number of tickets sold to international participants, who now are about 20 percent of the population (the organization does not ship tickets internationally). Plus, all the tickets re-sold through the STEP program also require a visit to the will-call window.
And then there are the vagaries caused by dependence on technology: If the wifi is down or bad weather is affecting satellite signals, the check-in process is slowed. It’s still the desert out here, you know, and things just don’t work they way they do in the default world.
Still, for the people who were already inside the city, although the rain and hail was scary at times, and made the roads impassible by virtually any means – foot, bicycle or vehicle, it also gave participants another opportunity to prevail over the elements.
The good planners knew that plastic bags wrapped around your shoes prevent “playa platforms” from building up on the soles of your shoes. That was really only the beginning of it, though.
There was the simple approach to getting around: no shoes at all. (The mud doesn’t stick to your feet.) Then there was the utilitarian approach: Black or clear plastic bags, zip-locked or taped. Then there was the fashion-forward approach: White plastic bags arising to mid-calf. And then there was Helen Hickman, who took advantage of the weather to invent a new genre of playawear: the trash suit.
“I must say, it’s very becoming,” Larry Harvey said as he walked around Rod’s Road, sidestepping the muddy clumps and randomly talking to people hoping to start their burn.
Helen had a message: “I have to tell everyone, trash-bag wear is going to be the thing this year.”