The sky was steel blue and the Temple of Promise glowed golden in the chill night air. Scissor lifts and booms hovered against the sky in the distance, and people were gathering in small groups on the ground. Soon the giant art cars would circle too, their lights bright and pulsing, but their sound systems mute.
It was the last night of the Burn, and as is usually the case, there was only silence in the night. The Temple crew slowly and silently carried flaming torches toward piled stacks of wood, which had arrived in the desert only a few weeks before.
In maybe 30 minutes, it was all gone. The soaring arches, the shiny copper, and the collective purpose of the hundred or so people who had come together to make a place of remembrance and reflection.
A solitary voice called out of the darkness: “I love you!” The hundreds, maybe thousands of names scrawled on the Temple, were invoked as one. Soon other people from different parts of the perimeter were calling out, as well: “I love you!” “I love you!” “I love you!”
Burning Man was small this year. Oh, it was as big as ever in some ways: a nine-mile chunk of the Black Rock desert cordoned off behind an orange trash fence. There was big art, and big sound, and a bursting-the-seams crowd. But still, Burning Man was small. It might have been the afternoon dust storms or the nighttime chill, but the most significant moments came when you were huddling with friends around a burn barrel, or sharing an unexpected meal, or having a quiet conversation at the back of a dusty bar.
Somehow, Burning Man became human-sized again: the Man himself was scaled down from last year’s stubborn behemoth, and the village-y Midway invited people to linger and explore. A mystery telephone at 10 o’clock and the trash fence invited people to make dinner reservations at a lush eatery in the city. And the cold forced bodies together — some nestled under blankets in camp, others pressed together, penguin-like, far out in the starry playa.
Either way, the big moments were small and intimate, like a newcomer relieved finally to be making friends in the bustling strange city.
The big question, the continuing challenge for Burning Man, big or small, is helping people get it. Get what? That the event is not a show, that it’s not meant for consumption. Rather that it is something to be a part of, not just watch.
The big timers who come, the Silicon Valley titans, the captains of industry and entertainment, generally fall into one of three categories: the ones who get it, the ones who are trying to get it, and the ones who, and we say this without malice, don’t care to get anything but a party and maybe the freedom of anonymity. We can hardly blame them, really, when their lives are spent living in the bubble of general adoration. (more…)
I’ve been coming to Burning Man for a while now, and I’d always heard rumors of participants making their way out to the airport, hanging out a while, and eventually hooking up with a pilot who took them flying over Black Rock City. I’d also heard it helped to know someone aviation inclined, so this year my friend Jane Eric, who knows some of the pilots out here, arranged a “maybe” flight for she and I and we made our way out past Laffing Sal near the Fire Depot to see what the airport is all about.
Upon our arrival there was coffee and bacon and chocolate chip pancakes with some rather sleepy types milling about. Pilots are an eclectic bunch. A British woman asked, “Is there a schedule?” and was answered with,”Sorta. There’s Sunrise, Cocktail hour, Dark Thirty and Sunset.”
Meg, aka Disaster, is the pilot who is the Logistics Manager for Black Rock City Airport. She said, “Yep, we built this.” Her friend Hank built a two seater plane, perfect for taking photographers over the city that he was quite proud of. He told me, “You can open the doors while in flight to get the perfect shot.” They discussed meeting pre-playa to co-ordinate the construction and remarked that pilots are a far-flung crowd and it’s hard to get them all to meet to plan, so you’re using Skype to connect people in the UK, Dubai, Japan, North America and other places. They represent all the time zones. They’re pretty mobile people.
Meg told us it took seven days to build the airport and introduced me to Dog Pilot who used to fly for the UN. He told me that the FAA and Nevada Department of Transportation came to inspect and he said “they thought it would be a freak show but we explained that the airport was built by two professionals and after they inspected it they said it was absolutely amazing. They were super pleased.”
Dog Pilot is Deputy Air Controller of the Airport and a Geologist with “11 million dollars worth of pilot training” who speaks fluent Italian. He was a Navy Test Pilot and he told me he rescued people from the Somalian Embassy during the coup there by flying them out in his small UN plane, starting mid-field, going into a downwind and being chased by a tank. He’s flown all over the world on humanitarian missions.
Pilots remind me of surgeons. They’re a bit nuts but smart and a lot of fun. If you can befriend one, you’re probably going to have experiences most people don’t have.
Black Rock City Airport has an elegant and simple setup. Water trucks wet the runway and there are large rollers to make it solid. There is a parking lot filled with small planes and a tower or two. They’ve constructed a terminal area tent complete with art and chairs. When you first come through the gate you see a large art piece called “Pork Chop Nebula”. Since the Airport is a Gate, there is an ingress and exodus structure and while I was there a group of two women and a man flew in. The women were dressed in slender black dresses and were very clean. Someone wearing a tie unloaded their bags. As they checked in, the airport staff discovered the two women were Burning Man virgins and had them roll around in the dust and hit an empty acetylene tank named “The Gong” that hangs from a steel tripod..
I found watching those folks lose their virginity rolling around in the dust pretty entertaining to watch and kind of sweet. Welcome to Black Rock City everyone.
Dog Pilot told me about the time he met Larry. It was late in the day and Larry arrived on an old 1940s Cessna. He stepped off the plane, lit up a cigarette and said, “Hi I’m Larry. Where’s my ride? I need to find Joe the Builder. I need to go see the Man. ” Dog Pilot called on the radio, but his radio died so they shot the shit for a while. He’d been pulling the roller with his Range Rover to flatten the runway and he unhooked it, then gave Larry a ride to the Man. When they arrived there, Dog Pilot said there were “like 300 people all saying ‘Hi Laaa-rrr-eee'”. He drove Larry to three other places after the Man visit and told me, “Everyone wants to talk to Larry. It looks like it could be exhausting. So I told him sometimes I take my lawn chair out to the other side of the runway and tell everyone I’m going to calibrate the windsocks. Just to get away.”
A few days later evidently Larry showed up to calibrate the windsocks and they sat out there, looking towards Frog Pond, smoking cigarettes with Black Rock City and all its insanity behind them and Larry told him, “This is how Burning Man used to be.”
Our pilot, Purple Haze arrived and we were up in a matter of minutes in his 1959, 230 HP Cessna 182 for a God’s Eye view of the City. He’s been coming out here since 1995 and flies Will Roger over the city for his weekly Saturday Sunrise shot as well as Sidney Erthal and Scott London. With the window open you can kind of hang out the cabin a little and see the full beauty of Black Rock City, complete with the large camps, huge art and people moving about. The trash fence clearly defines our five points.
Purple Haze is a force of nature and he took us up around the city three times and way out past Trego. I asked him if it was good flying out here and he told me “You really can’t find a better place to have to land if something went wrong. All open and flat.” He waved to our friends in walk-in with his wing. He swooped up the train tracks and over cows. He had a blast. We had a blast. He’s Batman.
Once you’ve flown over the city, you tend to notice those little planes buzzing overhead when you’re walking or riding around and imagine the fun people are having up there checking out our fabulous city.
I asked Purple Haze if people coming to the airport to catch a ride was a secret and he said hell no. For the most part pilots love it when people come out for rides. The airport isn’t Disneyland. It is a functioning real airport and there’s a certain respect you need to maintain regarding drinking or being stupid. Medi-vacs, if any, always take precedence. It may take a while to get on a plane and you may not get one at all. Mornings are typically the best time to try and they don’t fly when we’re having dust storms. Find a flight wrangler, be nice, gift and be respectful. If you can get up there you’ll have the time of your life seeing something you can’t see anywhere but here in Black Rock City.
Larry Harvey was talking about Burning Man’s hundred-year plan, which he noted was already 30 years along, this being the 30th burn (but of course who knew anything about any of this at Baker Beach in 1986), and that he and the other founders and Burning Man Project people are not only thinking about who would come after them, but also who might come after the people who come after them.
“It’s useful,” Harvey said, “because it makes us think more deeply about the present.”
Megs pointed out that Burning Man Regionals have extended their reach to 34 countries on six continents.
And Dave X, bless Dave X, was saying that his favorite power tool on the playa is … a lighter. Of course it is. As it should be. (He’s the person most directly responsible for making sure people don’t hurt themselves with fire in Black Rock City.)
Across town the evening prior, spiky dominatrix-looking women dressed in minimalist black halters and chaps were harnessing people at Thunderdome. Fierce huge men laughed, diva Marisa sang Ave Maria, and a thrill-thirsty crowd cheered the most aggressive combatants.
At the same time, lovely chilled hors d’oeuvres were being presented to a delicately dressed social crowd at First Camp, with the amiables pressed shoulder to shoulder on the First Camp deck.
Ohh, Burning Man, Burning Man, where art thou, Burning Man?
The night was about as exquisite as a night could be. Skies softening from purple to gray, the air all but still, and the playa was coming to life in a slow graceful arc. It was still early, only Saturday.
A group of maybe 50 people were on the CasBus, a Moroccan-themed art car, out for a look at the art and the scene and the people. There were stops at Mike Garlington’s very fabulous “Totem,” at the Temple of Promise, and even out at the Bijou movie theater in the deep and far playa. But the folks at the Bijou were still working to set things up, and they turned off the lights on the marquee as the big art car approached. They didn’t need a party just yet, they needed more time to get things done.
There were another set of lights in the distance, but it wasn’t an art installation. The lights were from a distant gold mine deep in the Black Rock Desert, and just seeing the lights reminded you that people come to the desert to work, not just play. They come to survive, to scratch out a living.
Burning Man is about a lot of things. It’s about work and play, friendships and pain, togetherness, community and expression.
It’s about the tech crowd and the Cacophony Society and plug n’ play camps and about putridly hot PortaPotties that are out of toilet paper. (I think the “PortaPotties have a greater impact on the experience than the Man does,” Harvey said.)
We’ve been to Burning Man for several days now. We’ve also been to Burning Man for 13 years. And going to Burning Man is a little like jazz; the improvisation takes a different turn every time you show up.
So after several days, and after 13 years, we keep listening to the chord progressions and beat changes, wondering if the beat and melody will go in a direction we can stay with.
Burning Man is a random pop-up shade in open playa, with two empty chairs. … Burning Man is a camp full of identical silver yurts, and another camp of identical blue tents, and another camp of gigantic pop-out RVs that look brand new.
Burning Man is a broke-ass looking camp full of dust and lawn chairs with not a soul in sight, and hand-lettered sign out front saying that psychic readings will resume at dusk. Burning Man is the camp of the billionaire Brazilian with his helicopter and luxuries beyond imagination, and certainly beyond our experience because, you know, there are still pockets of radical exclusion.
Burning Man has tried to deal with the … challenge, let’s call it … of plug n’ play camps, of the bucket-list mentality, of the people who want to do Burning Man in their own style. The organization has a word for the process – acculturation. But when you think about it, it has always been this way. There have always been people who wanted to do Burning Man more creatively, more elegantly, more stylishly, more comfortably. They’ve wanted to make the desert bend to their wishes, they’ve wanted to quash the natural forces that are trying to kill us here. Can we have venison stew and chilled Champagne and frozen eclairs in the desert? Hell yeah we can. Just watch. Some of the people here, just some of them, have the wherewithal to throw money at the challenge of thriving; others create their solutions in DIY, maker fashion.
Two strangers plopped on our couch a little before midnight a few nights ago. There was no one else around. They appeared tired and disoriented. “Can we stay here for awhile,” one asked. “Um, yeah, ok, sure.”
We wandered off a little bit, to make it seem that we were still around and that the camp was not abandoned and that it wouldn’t be a good idea to start checking trailer doors for more comfortable places to lie down.
But it made us think, too, about our responsibilities to radical inclusion, and maybe gifting, and I guess civic responsibility, and about what welcome and accommodation would be appropriate for our late-night visitors.
Danasaurus said later that at her previous camp, the test for visitors, if that’s the right word, is whether their presence contributed to the camp: were they engaged, interested, participating, curious? If they were as true guests, trying to engage, then great, welcome, enjoy your stay. Have a meal. If not, if they were there SIMPLY there to be fed and watered, well, the reception was not so generous.
Burning Man is a huge sound camp on the Esplanade blasting techno dance music, and no one there to hear … Burning Man is hammering and welding and wiring well into the night, with the week half over and the artwork still not finished. … Burning Man is burn barrels and birthday parties and karaoke in the far suburbs, and stopping at the flaming Serpent Mother simply for warmth. … Burning Man is being inspired by the sight of Radical Mobility camp, and deciding to quit whining about the long walks to everywhere …
Burning Man is cell service and wifi disappearing, maybe for good, and being thankful for the forced electronic silence … Burning Man is wandering aimlessly and finding a path … Burning Man is watching the dust pile up on your body as you sit out a dust storm, and silently wishing that the play dust would fill in the wrinkles on your face instead of outlining them in bas relief.
Burning Man is talking about someone you’d like to see, and having them walk into camp seconds later. Three times in a day … Burning Man is cookies for lunch, cheese and crackers for dinner, and then whole wheat kale waffles with perfectly grilled steak at the HEAT camp, just like that. And Burning Man is also some fool doling out Skittles-infused Everclear as a happy-hour drink. Idiot.
“We see the culture as self-organizing,” Harvey was saying. “This was never supposed to be a utopian community. I’ll believe in the possibility of a perfect society when I meet the perfect person,” he said.
Burning Man is judging people by how dusty they are … Burning Man is camp drama: Who is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, and who is sleeping with someone with whom they are not supposed to be sleeping.
Burning Man is sleeping till noon and getting up before dawn … Burning Man is going to bed early and staying up way past dawn. Each day at Burning Man feels like six days; there are early mornings, for the sunrises; midmornings, for coffee or food or a nap; midday, for concocting plans, midafternoon, for plans to fall apart and the wandering to commence; evenings, for more planning and costume changes and maybe something else to eat; and late nights, for … well, lots of things. Each part of the day is full, fuller than any day not spent at Burning Man, even though it doesn’t sound like it from this description. Possibilities are endless. Existential paralysis can and often does set in.
There are no vendors at Burning Man, no corporate sponsorship, and no state or governmental support, Larry Harvey was saying, in reference to a question about sources of revenue. Despite the “rumors of hidden artesian flows of money” to the organization, there is “only” $30 million or so in ticket sales. Well, there’s that that money plus the donations that can now be made to the nonprofit entity. But money has never been absent from the playa. The liberating, but temporal, decommodification that happens here does not make the event possible. “Most people won’t knit their tent from wool made from their shepherded sheep,” as Harvey put it.
“What people forget is that we’re the government here. We never say that … BLM would like to say it’s the government … well, it IS the government, but not the government that fashions the context of society out here. … We have further reforms yet to be fulfilled that bridges the gap between those who are privileged and those who have less.”
Harvey quashed the rumor/story that Burning Man was close to signing a deal to acquire the nearby and beautiful Fly Ranch and create an Algonquin Round Table in the desert, or a Nevada Versailles, or something in between. “We want to continue to build up the center, to expand what we do in America,” and that includes keeping note of the numerous offers to host Burning Man in another location.
Burning Man is fireworks from all around the Esplanade … A bevy of beauty queens roaming wild … Wondering where everyone is, and whether they are having a better time than you. Burning Man is trying to have more face time with that someone you want to have it with … Burning Man is walking a drunky back to his camp … and the continuing struggle to unapologetically accept a gift.
And Burning Man is not even half over. The wind has come up, and the dust is blowing, and the art cars are blaring, and the people are walking and biking and sipping fine wine, as the case may be, and the night is drawing hear, and we’ll listen for the melody, and hope that it’s full of promise and possibility and the dreams that might be made real.
We were pounded early this morning by a moderately fierce whiteout/brownout windstorm, and all of a sudden it felt like Burning Man.
It seems like forever since we’ve had a good, hours-long sand blasting, and we thought we were in for one today. But the dust became intermittent, and by 9 am or so the sun started working its way through the gloom. Then the skies got all blue and fabulous, and fantastic-looking clouds made everyone look skyward and go “ooooohhhh!”
We became mesmerized by the sight and wandered out of camp, and the next thing we knew we were at the Man Base, where Mr. Blue and Melissa and Opa and the rest of the lighting crews were putting in their final touches. The sideshows set up around the maze were in various stages of completion.
The Man Base crew was packing up shop, Silver Coon and Toolshop were putting all the tools back in the trailer container. It’ll be hauled off the playa to get everything ready for the big opening.
But this morning it looked like we were going to lose an entire day. The dust was so thick you couldn’t see the Center Café from Ring Road, and the wanderers who had ventured out were bent over in the wind, trying to see through fogged-up goggles.
Even veteran Burners like Flackmaster were disoriented. We ran into him as we made our way back to camp, and he seemed awfully glad to have found his way home.
The last DPW morning meeting was scheduled for the Depot today, but Playground made the call to postpone it at least for a day. It didn’t make any sense to have people trying to make their way around the city. That would be asking for trouble.
We were listening on the radio when Just George, out near the perimeter, was trying to meet up with Cowboy Carl. “I’m just going to be sitting here with my lights on,” he said tentatively, knowing that he’d be an easy target. “I’ll do my best to hit you,” Carl said.
But after a couple of hours, things lightened up. The weather forecasts have high wind advisories in effect until this evening, so we’re pretty much expecting occasional whiteouts most of the day. It reminded us of the old George Carlin weather report line: “Light followed by increasing darkness.” So it’ll be periods of dust followed by increasing amazingness.
The amazingness this morning included those clouds, which were, we were told, towering alto lenticulars. Matt Step works at the Man, and he’s also a pilot. “Seeing one this big is really rare,” he said. The wind whipping over the Sierra contributes to the formation, and glider pilots especially love to see them. “World records (for gliding) are set in Reno,” Matt said. “You get a massive column of lift, and sink. It can be scary as hell.”
Things actually took a turn for the weird last night, when a giant hazy rainbow appeared around the moon. It was a little like when you look at the sun after you’ve been swimming in a chlorinated pool and your eyes are all fuzzy. The first thing we did was to ask the person next to us, “Hey, do you see that??” Yes, they saw it too.
It’s a nice time to be on the playa. The big art cars aren’t allowed on the playa yet, so almost everyone was on foot or on a bicycle. It evoked a simpler time. We admit to being darktards – we wandered out without any lights on, but the moon was almost full and it was easy to see and be seen.
We heard reports of long waits at the Gates to get in the city, as the last of the early arrivers were pulling in. We’re guessing that if anything, it’ll be harder to get an early arrival pass next year.
Some of the early arrivers didn’t seem too clear on all the concepts, either. We talked to Shane Saw Sisco, who had been out on the Gate lines overnight. The Gate people have to check your car to make sure you’re not smuggling anyone in. Twice last night, Sisco said, he was asked to take off his shoes before getting into the RVs he needed to check.
We’re caught between the now and the almost now in Black Rock City.
The work’s not finished, but it’s getting close.
The streets are as busy as they’ve ever been. The big theme camps have rolled in, and so have the artists. It’s a weird in-between time when it’s still ok to drive your car, but the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists has shot way up.
There was a giant kickball game outside the Center Café last night, and judging by the shouts, it was World Cup intense. We first thought it was incongruous that all the dusty funky types would be so into the competition, but this isn’t really a hippie encampment. It’s more broad than that, more diverse, in temperament, outlook, and, while we’re at it, age.
We know the Black Rock Census keeps excellent track of the demographics of the participants, but it seems to us that an even wider mix of people here in the build-up.
Today was the first day almost since we can remember that it wasn’t bright and sunny. Early last week there were a few days when the sun and moon were shrouded in a red haze from distant wildfires, but of late the skies have been crystalline, the clouds dramatic, the sunsets mind-numbing.
We saw pictures of our friends back in the Bay Area, and KarltheFog was much in evidence, although it seems like a heat wave is baking the area lately.
Here, the temperatures the past few days have only been in the mid to high 80s, and the nights have been chilly. The big weather news is that high winds are supposed to be coming our way. By the time you read this, the predictions could have changed, so the best thing to do is check the Burning Man website for the latest info. But better to get the big winds behind us now, rather than when there are tens of thousands of cars kicking up dust on Gate Road. All the people here already will get an early test of just how well they’ve tied down their stuff.
The last spire was pounded into the playa yesterday, and all the crews plus a bunch of looky-loos came by to celebrate.
There was all sorts of general jank strewn about the site. Random trenching was done for no apparent reason, and holes that were dug were immediately filled in with kicked dirt. There were cars hoisted in the air, a compost pile and random pieces of fence. There were radio antennas and road signs, including one for Spoono’s Road.
In general, it was a celebration of the end of the build. The last spire usually takes place the last Thursday before the event, but in the past couple of years, rain and other interruptions have pushed the work schedule back and its been held on Friday. But this has been a relatively smooth year, work-wise and weather-wise.
The Spires crew did the honors of getting the whole thing started, because spires is what they do. Marleyne was shooting anvils, and the sledge-throwing contest rounded out the festivities. (River was the winner.)
You can check the whole thing out at 4:20 and Esplanade, right near the Thunderdome. It’s a quite amazing collection of … stuff … put together by the most amazing people anywhere. See for yourself:
The sign team has been working since the middle of July on creating and signs that help you find your friends, find your way back to camp, and help others find you when you might need help.
But something really crappy has been taking place over the past several days. It’s not a new problem, but it might be surprising in that it’s going on when the only people out here are supposed to be working, either setting up the city or building art.
The street signs are being stolen. Already. Even before the gates have opened. Most of the signs on 4 o’clock were gone the day after they went up.
“It’s at the heart of the event,” said Jenerator. “Nobody steals art at Burning Man, and the street signs are our art.”
There are 300 intersections in Black City, and each of them has a double-sided sign with the names of the streets – Arcade, Ballyhoo, Carny, Donniker, Ersatz, Freak Show, Geek, Hanky Pank, Illusion, Jolly, Kook and Laughing Sal. They are all hand-painted by the sign shop crew, then installed all over the city.
It’s not a new problem. Folks have been taking the “souvenirs” for as long as they’ve been put out, but the deal is you’re supposed to wait until Saturday of the event to take them down. The Burning Man organization even has a special program to deal with the problem – Adopt a Street Sign, aka ASS. You can read all about it right here http://blog.burningman.com/2014/08/participate/adopt-a-street-sign-ass-project/ but essentially, if someone takes off with a sign from your corner, put a new one to help the people who’ve lost their way, and to help the people who may be trying to help you if there’s an emergency.
“You wait until the Man burns, or you’re a dick,” as Bam Bam put it, ever so succinctly. “We want you to take them”, added Stabby Abby, “but just wait.”
The weekend before Gate opens is approaching and a certain feeling has set in. I’ve been out here early before and felt the change from being part of a small group of people building Black Rock City, then having the big art come in to start on the Temple and other huge projects, then watching as the big Theme Camps arrive and suddenly landmarks you’ve been using to navigate are replaced. The great unpacking begins with enthusiastic Theme Campers smiling as they create their fabulous spaces. Once the Gate opens, it becomes a free for all as you beautiful people flood in to stake your space in Black Rock City and build then share what you’re bringing.
Towards the end of pre-event, you realize that you’ve forged bonds with people out here that can only happen in a place as dry and desolate as this. There have been challenges met and there has been solemn sadness. There’s been triumph and a lot of hard work. It is tribal and essential, sometimes feeling as if we’ve stepped into another time where big personalities build things just because they can. My job is nothing compared to what the infrastructure groups like DPW, Tech, IT and their support do out here to build this place, and it takes a certain larger than life type of person to make Black Rock City happen. During the build, meals bring everyone together and it is there that you find old friends and make new ones. I sit there eating and face after dusty face passes on their way to grab grub and these are some of the most lovely dusty people I’ve ever had the honor to live amongst, if only for a short time each year.
As big Theme Camps begin their build, you no longer navigate in straight lines to your destinations. You’ll smell your first BBQ. You hear the hammers pounding all around and containers are opened with last year’s tarps and lights and everything that makes Theme Camps strewn about. You will see the groups of serious campers standing around, hands on hips, evaluating how many people they’re going to need to raise up that 60 foot wide shade structure. Work lights are running all night as massive tents are erected and decorated. People begin visiting you because they can tell you’ve been here for a while and maybe they can use your stove to make some coffee and share it with you, or borrow some zip ties.
Bring your own zip ties people.
Riding my bike around I met Seth Maxwell Malice and I asked him how it was going. He said, “Don’t forget to bolt things together. Gravity doesn’t work like it should.” Passing all the camps that are setting up you’re greeted with constant hellos from happy folks setting up in the friendliest city on earth. They’re insanely happy to be here, but what rational person would consider packing, hauling all your stuff to this dry lake bed, working for days to build a camp, dealing with the weather, then tearing it all down and hauling it out while leaving no trace a vacation? We are a peculiar bunch.
We like to take at least one trip back into Gerlach after moving onto the playa for the build season. We like … no, we need … clean laundry, and there’s a spot at the Shell Station to do it if the Saloon gets too crowded.
But we like to see some of the people we’ve gotten to know a little bit in Gerlach, too.
Pete, who works at the gas station, had his nice pickup truck parked off the shoulder of the road the other afternoon when an arriving Burner got a little too close with the trailer she was towing. BOOM! Her awning caught Pete’s windshield, smashing through the passenger side. Fortunately, no one was inside.
Up the road a little bit, Bruno, the 93-year-old Gerlach patriarch who owns a lot of the town, is moving unsteadily from the bar to a back room. A little later, his daughter asks if anyone has seen him, and fingers point to the door Bruno disappeared through. Most days Bruno sits quietly in one of the chairs that line the other side of the bar. Sometimes he wraps himself in a blanket against the air-conditioner’s chill. A blurry mounted TV is on pretty much all the time.
A young man named Adam is hanging around outside Bruno’s, telling his story to each new person who pulls up. He was supposed to be hauling trailers from a nearby storage yard out to the playa, he says, but the guy who hired him never showed up.
Andy’s upbeat in a Rainbow Gathering kind of way, all platitudes and joyousness, ready for the light to start shining on him. He says he’s been doing odd jobs for a week on a ranch nearby (“Working my ass off!”), and he’s got $450 in his pocket to show for it.
Most of his story, we come to find out, isn’t true. He had only gotten to town that morning. He didn’t know how to drive a stick-shift, didn’t have the license he was supposed to have to haul the trailers, so he was told things weren’t going to work out. We’re not sure exactly what he was hoping for at this point, but getting onto the playa without a ticket was likely at the heart of the matter.
Lacy is big-city pretty in a small lonesome town, so when she works behind the bar at Bruno’s, there’s a spark. The rocketeers, the hunters, the locals, the Burners, they all like her easy smile and the way she listens and laughs. She seems kind and forgiving, so she makes the hard-edged drinkers feel better for awhile.
Her sister, Heidi, who also causes hearts to beat faster, moved to town last year, and the two of them will open a coffee shop on Main Street this weekend, hoping the travelers to Burning Man will need some caffeine and maybe a rest before they hit the craziness of Burning Man. They were testing the espresso machine and making freezy mocha frappuccinos the other evening. Real Ghirardelli chocolate, too.
Lacy’s sensitive to the plight of the hard-luck visitors this time of year, the ones without tickets, the ones still hoping that a miracle will happen. But Burning Man isn’t spontaneous anymore: You can’t decide at the last minute to make the trip. You need a ticket, and you need a vehicle pass, and neither comes easy. You can’t depend on the kindness of strangers, either.
A woman sitting at the counter in Bruno’s coffeeshop said she had just arrived from New York. She was supposed to have a ticket waiting for her at will-call, but it wasn’t there when she showed up. “But it’s ok,” she said, smiling. “It’s going to work out. I know it will.”
She had recently gotten out of a relationship, and Burning Man seemed like the right thing at the right time for her. But now she was struggling to figure out her next move. “The guy I got a ride with, he’s 62 years old, a really cool guy. But they wouldn’t let him in, either.”
Burning Man doesn’t let stranded travelers become a problem at the event site, so they require the people they are with to look after them, which sometimes means driving them back as far as Reno so they can get a place to stay.
Out on the dusty four-mile road into the event site, Tabitha was working a Gate shift. The wind was blowing hard, and most people were pulling on their goggles and facemasks. “We had a guy show up,” Tabitha said, “who felt his path in the world meant he should go to Burning Man.” The black-clad Gate folks were busy in the lanes of cars, checking for early arrival passes, checking for tickets, and looking in the trunks for stowaways. “But he didn’t have a ticket, or early arrival, or anything,” Tabitha said. And he, like so many before him, was sent away.
“If you show up here in a vehicle with someone who doesn’t have a ticket, you’re responsible,” Tabitha said. “That whole car, everyone gets turned around, and they have to deal with that person and make sure everyone gets taken care of.”
Do people get mad when they are turned away, or do they take a la-la, playa-will-provide approach?
“Most of the belligerent comes from people who are tired,” Tabitha said, “because they’ve been driving for three days. They don’t want their car to be searched, they just want to get into the city and do their thing.”
Miss Roach and Sailor were down at the Gates, too. We’re coming up on the biggest night of their year, when the doors open for 70,000 visitors.
“The rules are the rules,” Sailor says. “If there’s some mind-bending story, we’ll kick it upstairs, but ninety-nine percent of the time we just don’t have time for this stuff.” Miss Roach agrees: “We just don’t have the resources to make miracles happen,” she says.
Believe me, these are good-hearted, generous people, but there’s not a lot they can do. “Every now and then you get one that really moves your heart,” Miss Roach says, “but you’re like, crap.”
Hopefully, though, you’ll make it past the imposing, no-fooling-around Gate people, and you’ll head another mile or so up the dusty road to the Greeter’s station. Once there, all is well. Happy people will encourage you to get out of your car so they can give you a hug. If you’re a first-timer, they’ll want you to bang a triangle and roll in the dust.
“She didn’t want to do it at first,” one guys says after his lady friend got up from her initiation in the dust. “But she figured she might as well do it the right way.” He had taken pictures while she was down on the ground, and then the Greeter gave them more big hugs, and they got back in their car, and off they went.
Back at the bar in Bruno’s, Lacy is annoyed. She’s learned that her mom, who lives in the house with her and her sister and her brother, has invited smooth-talking, non-stick-driving Andy back to the house until he can get himself squared away.
“She’s gonna turn me into a mean person!” she says. “I don’t like it!”
Would she ever do that? Let a stranger with a sad-sack tale into her house?
“Oh yeah,” she says, softening.
The woman from New York who didn’t get the will-call ticket will be staying at the house tonight, too.
Yesterday the Man Base Crew took a little time off from their steady work pace to hang out in the shade, have some beers and get the low down on what art will be living inside the amazing structure they’ve built. BettieJune from the ARTery joined Kimba and Leslie to discuss the art, performance and otherwise illusory and carnivalesque interactivity that will saturate participants once the event begins. Right now the Man Pavilion is a hard hat construction zone with the Maze being completed and painted, the Illumination crew placing lights and eight Belgian tents (from the Souk last year) being erected to house Regionals’ and other artists’ Midway projects. At each of the four portals into the Man Pavilion, Hugh D’Andrade has created fantastical entrances inspired by carnivals around the world.
The Man stands tall above a Maze and not getting caught up in all the art in the Maze and Midway will be impossible. The Pavilion is anticipated to be a site to behold, an extravaganza of the odd, unusual and entertaining where you can become one with the carnys who bark to you and bathe in the veritable glow of a Carnival of Art. The Maze structure entrance is to be covered with the “Bannerline Project” by Killbuck. His art once graced Defenestration in San Francisco and now we will have his sardonic Carnival banners in Black Rock City for the week. At the Maze entrance is an installation by Tony Spiers and placed around the Maze look for “Colossal Skeletal Marionette” by Christian Breeden, which is a big skeleton puppet. You will also encounter the “Hall of Mirrors Arcade” by Wolf, “Larger-than-life sized arcade pieces including Giant Pinball, Foosball Reimagined and Jumbo Pachinko.”
“Be the Managerie” by Michael Koi, featuring exotic animals where one can put their face through a hole to become the animal, is inside the Maze and the ARTery is referring to these openings as “Noggin Notches.” “Laffing Sal” by Dana Albany, Haideen Anderson, Flash Hopkins and Tom Kennedy has returned to entertain the little ones with maniacal laughter. “The Church Trap Organ” by Rebekah Waites & crew has been re-imagined Coney Island style and has arrived on the playa. It is being installed today.
“Lumiphonic Creature Choir” by Mark Bolotin and Synarcade is a 17-foot-wide sculpture with projected faces that promises to be an interactive audio-visual collection of heads that will sing, beat-box or recite fragments of prose. Barron Levkoff’s “Mystical Midway” promises to delight you with all manner of cosplay and invite you to join in on the Mythic Play.
The Midway tents will house Burning Man’s Regional projects, and this year, as with last year’s Caravansary, the projects highlight one-on-one interactions. The CORE began in 2011 with large wood sculptures circling the Man that were burned on Thursday of the event. Burning Man also burned the CORE in 2013 and in 2014 Burning Man brought the Regionals closer to the Man and stopped the large CORE burns to provide more human interaction and cross pollination than sculptures could provide.
This year the Theme invites us all to create “panoply of strange and enchanting wonders” and Thursday morning pre-event, the Regionals and other non-regional artists will begin setting up their unique Carnival of Mirrors art and interactive performance. There will be 29 Regional groups that celebrate what makes them specifically unique in our vast Burning Man network and some installations include the “Pinball Machine” from our Wisconsin Regional group, “The Gallery of Infinity”, a sideshow of LEDs and infinity panels from Santa Cruz, “The Baltic Altar” from the Baltic States – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia Regionals that involves immersing yourself in a cube structure where you can compose unique melodies, the “Philly Phreak Show” which is a collection of oddities and “FoxCarn & the Betel Store” by the Taiwan and China Regional that will let “burners experience both forms of capitalist exploitation.”
The Man Pavilion is a saturated hyper microcosm of the entirely of Burning Man. This year it promises to be a fertile art space and a place for reflection and participation so be sure to make your way out there add your spice to the stew. They start installing tomorrow and this is just a sampling of what awaits you. Many more mysteries will be revealed.