A little of this, a lot of that, and some more of that other thing

"Embrace" so far, by dawn's early light
“Embrace” so far, by dawn’s early light

A good part of this morning’s morning meeting was devoted to the imminent arrival of the Bureau of Land Management’s law enforcement officers. They’ve bivouacked in Gerlach for now, but they will be a presence on the playa starting tomorrow.

You’ve already no doubt read the excellent advice on the JRS and the Burning Blog about how to have a trouble-free time at Burning Man.  http://www.burningman.com/media/doc/preparation/blm_stipulations/burning-man-closure-document.pdf)

The work crews got a visit from event operations manager Charlie Dolman and Government Relations Liaison Marnee Benson, who were there to go over some of the finer points and to review best practices. There were a lot of questions, and a lot of answers, but maybe the most important message was this: Stay cool. Don’t escalate the situation. If you’re going to get a ticket, the best path is to accept it and live to fight it another day, when you are off the playa and can take advantage of any number of legal resources available to you. One such resource is Lawyers for Burners, a grassroots organization with lots of success representing burners in past years.

Know your rights, to be be sure, and keep your ship tight, for doubly sure. The best way to avoid trouble is not to ask for it. But if you DO have a law-enforcement encounter, stay cool! Be professional! Be a burner! Don’t ruin your time here – if you want to dispute what happened, document your facts and have your day in court.

Of the 400-plus citations issued last year in Black Rock City, nearly all of them were downgraded after the fact.

The clearest path to trouble lies in becoming argumentative or confrontational. Guess what? You’re not going to win that battle. But as Dave X says, it might be helpful to view any law-enforcement situation as an opportunity to display Burner qualities. Who knows what culture change you might facilitate.

There were some interesting and unique hypotheticals discussed, though. Such as, if you have people riding on the roof of your vehicle on a couch, do they need to be wearing seatbelts? More info as it becomes available …

 

A big day for the big Man

My, what big arms you have

My, what big arms you have

So the Man is big. Very, very big, as we know. His legs are somewhere around 75 feet high, and when upright, the structure will be well over ten stories. And the Man is truly decked out this year. Not only is his external cladding extensive and graceful, but it will be lit from the inside as well as the outside. Mr. Blue and Smoke Daddy are in charge of the lighting, and honestly we can’t wait to see what they’ve dreamed up.

But tomorrow is a very important day. The Man Base crew has been working on the legs while they have been on the ground. Tomorrow they will be lifted skyward, and once they are secured, the torso will be picked up and placed atop his legs. It’s all very tense and high pressure, because a giant 240-ton crane is being brought in for the task. Keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates.

Monday was the final day to get ready for the big lift. To that end, the Man’s two enormous arms were attached to the torso, and that lift came off without a hitch. “I’m not worried about this one at all,” Chaos said. “Tomorrow’s the day.”

 “Embrace”-able You

Annie Harper and Rachel Heather Lee Kennison poked their heads out of Omega
Annie Harper and Rachel Heather Lee Kennison poked their heads out of Omega

Matt Schultz, who is building the Embrace project in the far playa, likes to jokingly refer to the heads, Alpha and Omega, which are now perched on top of towers, as Pez dispensers. At this early stage, they do look a little like that, but the skinning project is proceeding, and the closer you come, the more beautiful the figures are.

Yesterday Rachel and Annie were ensconced in Omega’s noggin, working on their murals and lighting and other effects. We couldn’t get a sneak preview, though, because the only way to get there right now is by boom lift.

“We’re trapped up here,” Rachel called down. “We’re like Rapunzel!” (more…)

The Story of the Early Man

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The work crews setting up Black Rock City had a little get-together out near the Man last night, an annual gathering that has come to be known as Early Man.

It’s not an official thing, and it’s not on any schedule of Burning Man events, but everyone here knows that on the Saturday night before the gates open, it’s ok to take a time out and … burn some things.

It’s funny that we’ve been on the desert for three weeks now, and there hasn’t been much fire. There have been burn barrels here and there, because some of the nights have been chilly. But there haven’t been any big communal fires to gather around, but last night fixed all that.

Like so many things at Burning Man, the Early Man has organic roots. It was born of necessity, and now it has become one of the rights and rituals of the city.

The Early Man, aka the Early Burn, started in 1999, when Will Roger and Tony Coyote had finished their survey of the city, all centered around the Golden Spike, the exact spot where the Man would be built. But the problem was, in all that expanse of desert, and with no identifying markers, there was a problem. Tony tells the story:

“The next day I went out and drove around, and I couldn’t find the orange cone (that marked where the spike was). That was back when we had only one cone!

“And Will said well, we need more of a beacon, so we can find the thing, so Peter Mars back then was running wood shop, and he just put a couple of sticks together, and painted them dayglo pink, and put a triangular head on him … and that was our Man!

Tony Coyote
Tony Coyote

“And we set up the whole city, and then when the real Man showed up, we had affection for our Man, that it was the worker’s man, and so we said, well, we should burn him!

“And so that’s how Early Burn was born. Because originally, it was the burn for the DPW, the burn for the blue collar, the people that set it up, for the Rangers and for the Gate, and so it’s for the staff, essentially, because after that the general onslaught comes.”

People started gathering as darkness fell, because Dave X let everyone know that all the effigies would be set aflame at the stroke of 9 o’clock. (They are all burned at once for safety reasons – you don’t want people still wandering around in them when they might catch fire.)

Playground
Playground

The work lights dimmed and crew members put highway flares to their sculptures. Fireworks started exploding, and the burn was on. The fireworks weren’t huge, but they seemed appropriate. Because the crowd was small and intimate, the fireworks were enough to make you duck when the booms started happening. (more…)

With the Gate folks, on the lonesome highway that won’t be lonesome for long

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It’s a big challenge to get cars to go from 2 lanes up to 16, but no doubt the bigger one is getting them from 16 lanes back down to 2.

That’s how participants make their way in and out of Black Rock City – off a two-lane blacktop roadway onto the desert floor, where the road widens to 16 dusty lanes.

“It’s got to be one of the biggest roads in the world,” GSN (Glow Stick Ninja) says as he lines up row after row after row of orange cones. “Sixteen lanes is pretty big,” the Indeed it is, and Gate Road this year is about four and half miles long.

That’s the road that will seem endless as you make your way to the city, and then again as you head back from where you came.

The Gate, Perimeter and Exodus crew have loads on the plate to make ingress and egress from the city safe and at least somewhat sane, and it begins with finding an appropriate route through the desert from the highway to the event site.

Here’s the good news: The rough weather that hit the playa this week has really tamped down the road. Dust was at a minimum as the crew did its thing, but we’ll just have to see how long the hardpack lasts. “This was a lake for a couple of days,” GSN says.

GSN in his natural habitat
GSN in his natural habitat

It’s hard to get one’s head around just how many cones are used in guiding folks into Black Rock City. “We’ve got a whole container full of them,” GSN says. We’re not good at this, but let’s do a little math: 4.5 miles, 16 lanes, a cone in each lane every 100 feet or so … yes, that’s a lot of cones. And that number doesn’t take into account the “diamonds” in the road that that guide drivers from 16 lanes down to 8 down to 4 and then down to 2.

The crew has a hard deadline; tomorrow morning, the Gate road will open for guests who will be visiting for Early Man (the mini-burns the crews stage).

Feral Kid, Nacho, GSN and Knotty Boy
Feral Kid, Nacho, GSN and Knotty Boy

They center-lined the whole thing so the cones would line up squarely, and they stuck little blue flags in the ground that are guiding their way now. They also did all the stake-pounding for the flags on either side of the road, but without all the hoo-hah of  Fence day. “There wasn’t a dawn patrol, but for us it’s a fairly big event.” They got some help from their DPW brethren for the task, and they had the whole thing done in a matter of hours. The Gate helps the DPW, and the DPW helps the Gate. It’s a two-way street.  (more…)

Road warriors

The Transpo team
The Transpo team

The guys in the Transpo crew are a pretty rough bunch.

They were out at Trailer Row near the Depot the other evening, having a little “safety meeting” (wink wink) at the end of their big week of hauling everything from the work ranch out to the playa. And by everything, we mean allll of the stuff – hundreds of containers and trailers, living containers, boxes, tanks, supplies, vehicles … really, all of the things.

It’s a logistical and practical nightmare to manage, and it’s all done in the heat of the first days that Burning Man folks are allowed to be on the playa. While the fence is being pounded and the first pieces of the Man base are brought out and HEAT is setting up its camp, the Transpo team going back and forth from the ranch, picking up the right stuff and dropping it in the right place, making sure that everything arrives at the right time. And pretty much everyone wants it right now. “It must be a lot of pressure,” we said. “I don’t feel any pressure,” Cuervo answered evenly.

You can’t listen to the work radio here for more than five minutes without hearing Cuervo’s name. The man and his crew are much in demand. A few years ago, when the radios were extra wonky and just not working, Cuervo would go around to various spots and leave written notes for his drivers about what was going on and what needed to happen next.

“It worked,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.”

This year didn’t have that kind of technical difficulty, but still there were new challenges. Cuervo made sure at the end of last season that everything came off the playa in a way that made sense for when it had to go out the next year. Alas, there were procedural changes made in the offseason that changed the order, “but I think we’re reacting pretty well,” Cuervo said.

There was also a new emphasis on weight control and tie-down methods this year, and an emphasis on adhering to every safety regulation on the books. While it was the right thing to do, it still might have slowed down the pace of the move. On top of that there was rain to deal with, too. Still, as the crew stood there Saturday in the golden glow of the late afternoon, it was pretty clear that things had gone smoothly.

“I just want to thank you guys,” Cuervo said. “You’re a hell of a crew.”

And that they are, full of the kind of characters that you’d expect to find working the trucks at Burning Man. Among them are Vaughn Solo, an aggressively tattooed dirt-bike rider, Railroad Mike, who brought is six-wheel drive M931 Army surplus vehicle with him this year; and Scotty V (do NOT call him Fubar), a water-skiing grandfather. Then there is Rusty, who was born in Empire and has been coming to the playa his entire life.

“It’s in my blood,” he says.

Rusty’s nickname is Big Ugly, and while we don’t know about the Ugly part, there is no disputing the Big. The dude is large, but the thing is, he used to be a lot larger – 400 pounds with five percent body fat.

When Rusty pounded stakes, he used an 85-lb pounder
When Rusty pounded stakes, he used an 85-lb pounder

“I used to come in the bar and guys would say, man, he’s big and ugly,” Rusty says. We’re guessing that they didn’t say it out loud, though.

Rusty is an ex-military man, an ex Hells Angel, and an ex con. “I spent five years in the pen,” he says matter-of-factly. “I saw a guy beating up a woman, and I broke his back.” (more…)

Out on Main Street, Gerlach

Heidi's been here a week; Flash hired her to work the bar
Heidi’s been here a week; Flash hired her to work the bar

Do we have time for a personal anecdote?

This is a blog about the building of Black Rock City, but we have an admission to make — we stepped away from the desert today, for a couple of reasons: 1) because we could, and 2) because it might be the last day we could make a run to Gerlach to do our laundry, get a shower, use a flush toilet and generally step back from the dirt and the heat. So we did.

Forgive us our weakness. Sometimes it feels like a contest on the playa – who can work the longest and the hardest and get the grimiest? And who can party the hardest and still be present and accounted for at the morning meeting? We can tell you that this is not a competition for amateurs.

And so we stepped away from it all, if only for a day. Folks on the work crews USUALLY get a day off during the week, sometimes two, so we didn’t feel entirely guilty.

Gerlach is a small town, and getting smaller. The gypsum mine in next-door Empire closed several years ago, and Gerlach is doing its best to hang on. But it isn’t easy, and the winter months are especially deadly. The population is down below 200, and there are only 14 students left in the school.

But Gerlach is also a haven and refuge. It sits at the edge of nowhere, “out where the pavement ends,” and summer days are mostly sultry and slow. It’s peaceful. There is no traffic. The sky is huge, the landscape is stunningly severe, and when there’s a soft breeze, like there is today, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to want to be anywhere else in the world.

And because Gerlach has gotten so small, you usually wind up seeing the same people in town every day.

Trixie on the porch of the Black Rock offices.
Trixie on the porch of the Black Rock offices.

There’s Bruno, of course, sitting in one of the deep chairs along the wall, watching the action at the bar. This time of year, people come by and pay their respects, and he mostly nods silently through clenched teeth, an expression that sometimes approaches a smile.

There’s Flash, wild gray hair flying around as he fixes a trailer that he’ll rent to a Burner, or behind the bar at the Miner’s Club. There’s always life and energy around Flash; he’s a catalyst, a dreamer, an entrepreneur and a performer, all at once. He greets you with shouts and hugs.

There’s Quinn, a former work ranch manager for Burning Man, counting down the days till he opens his pizza and taco shop.

Here come two of Burning Man’s co-founders, Will Roger and Crimson Rose, just back from their Meteor Camp about six miles past the Burning Man site, out in the middle of the Black Rock Desert. “We must have seen 40 or 50 before the moon came out,” Will said. “We had a bunch of people out with us over the weekend, and then everyone took off and it was just us.” The annual Perseid meteor shower is truly spectacular in the black skies of the desert.

There’s Heidi at the Laundromat, doing a bunch of loads for a cleaning job. She’s a newcomer in town, having moved here from Colorado just six weeks ago. She’s not a stranger, though, because her sister Lacy works behind the bar at Bruno’s. And Heidi had only been in town a day before Flash hired her to work the bar at the Miner’s Club.

Lacy's been here six years
Lacy’s been here six years

Somewhat amazingly, Lacy’s been here for six years. “This is a hard place for a single mother,” she says, “but there’s something about it that keeps me here.”

Lacy has her regulars at Brunos. The locals are the only ones who are here all year. They sit and talk quietly, eyeing any newcomers. At this time of year the newcomers are Burners. At other times, there are hunters and dirt-bikers and rocketeers. They each have their season. (more…)

Bowed but unbroken

One of the heads of the "Embrace" installation
One of the heads of the “Embrace” installation

So we got up, put on dry socks, maybe pushed some dried mud out of the tent or living container, and went back to work.

At the morning meeting, Logan quoted Coyote and said, “Next we’re going to have to work harder, stronger, longer and faster.”  Joe the Builder said it was “business twice as usual.”

The day after two big storms hit the construction site known as Black Rock City, things were bright and beautiful  – thick puffy big-sky clouds, and none of the dark ominousness of the previous days. The roads in the city were still muddy at midday, and you had to drive around the wet spots so as not to chew up the playa.

Despite the second “snow” day in a week, most of the crews were confident that they were on or could get back on schedule. The Man will have his legs raised in the air tomorrow morning, and the towers that will support the heads at the “Embrace” installation were being lifted into place Wednesday morning.

“The storm hit us right in the warp core,” Coyote said, “where we were most vulnerable. The whole west side was taken out, the Commissarry where we eat, the Black Hole is pretty devasted. Crazily enough, the east side of the city is just fine.”

Hey, Man, what big legs you have. (More than seventy-five feet, actually)
Hey, Man, what big legs you have. (More than seventy-five feet, actually)

For a time, trucks coming out of Gerlach were navigating to the city via Jungo Road, the usual path to the hot springs. But by the early afternoon, Coyote, Booya and the road team found a new path for cars and trucks to get on and off the playa. All the semi trailers and vital deliveries that had been held up in Gerlach could finally make it to the playa. The new route was immediately dubbed … River Road. It was also being called Bubblegeek Memorial Highway, in honor of the person who apparently found the dry route.

The road opening was good news for just about everyone, because the closure had led to the marshaling of certain resources, like water. The practical outcome of that action was that the showers have been unavailable for two days.

There were very healthy wind gusts in the afternoon, but instead of kicking up dust storms, they were mostly benign. The surface of the playa was drying nicely, and a new crust was keeping down the dust, at least for the time being.

“Sounds funny to say it, but you know we’re gonna have to water” the new road, Coyote said. It won’t take long for the trucks and other vehicles to break through the crust and crumble the surface to a fine powder.

The Man Base crew worked on the Man's legs (foreground) and his torso (in the back).
The Man Base crew worked on the Man’s legs (foreground) and his torso (in the back).

At this point it is unclear what long-term effect the rain will have on the quality of the playa, but the immediate effect is a good one. (more…)

Weather: Black Rock City Gets Hit Again

When it was safe to walk around again, people made their way to the Commissary
When it was safe to walk around again, people made their way to the Commissary

Black Rock City got slammed a couple of more times today, and we probably haven’t seen the end of the fierce weather.

A furious and sudden afternoon rain and hailstorm turned the city into a muddy swamp. Power went out, and hail popped the window of a work truck. The frozen balls started out about a quarter-inch in size, and then got larger.

In a little more than 15 minutes, roads that had been drying out nicely from an early morning storm became lakes of standing water again. Workers took shelter where they could find it to ride out the latest battering.

And then … sunshine. And whoops and hollers. And astonished looks all around. We made it through again, but holy crap that was amazing.

Hail nearly the size of golf balls splashed into the puddles
Hail nearly the size of golf balls splashed into the puddles

And oh wow wouldn’t a soccer game in the mud be awesome!

The mood was light, but the prospects were serious. Thunderstorms were reportedly lined up for 20 miles, but there’s really no way to predict their path. The skies can be blue one minute, then dark with a storm cell another. A timely pro tip: Never leave your camp without securing all your gear: You can sometimes see a big storm coming, but smaller squalls can pop up quickly, and your chair or table can become a dangerous flying object.

“I think there is a very very real possibility of crazy weather this year,” said Marian Goodell, who, as one of the co-founders of Burning Man, ought to know. She remembers fierce winds blowing down shade structures in 2000, and it was so cold that she remembers hunkering down near the silver trailer in Media Mecca, shivering in the sun.

So. What’s the message here?

The hail started out fairly small but got larger quickly
The hail started out fairly small but got larger quickly

Be prepared!

Things can get seriously weird in the Black Rock Desert, and while seeing the cool pictures of fabulous clouds and rainbows is great, the larger point is to be ready for the worst. One of the things that binds participants together is the sense that you’ve prevailed over the elements, but to do that you have to be ready. Here are some handy reminders from the organization:

http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/securing.html#.U-l9-sZZwjI http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/weather.html#.U-l-E8ZZwjI

check out this real-time useful shizzle: http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/live_weather.html#.U-l-J8ZZwjI

and the survival guide page:

http://survival.burningman.com/your-survival-in-brc/the-elements/  http://galleries.burningman.com/pages/view.php?ref=33703 http://galleries.burningman.com/pages/view.php?ref=29473 http://galleries.burningman.com/pages/view.php?ref=29385

Yes, all this wild weather has a certain element of fun and wonder to it. Weldboy told one garbage-bag-wearing refugee, “You look so homeless!” And Roxy was saying that we were having “fox wedding weather,” when there are storms and rainbows intermittently.

Even before the rain stopped, the sun came out on the other side of the playa
Even before the rain stopped, the sun came out on the other side of the playa

A giant double rainbow appeared around sunrise. “I heard it,” Franny Penny said. Come again? “I heard it!,” she said. “I heard people oooo-ing and ahhhh-ing, and I went outside and saw it.”

Storm cells had moved over the city in the early morning hours, with heavy slashing rain and thick bolts of lightning around 4:30 am. By the time the sun was coming up, the intensity of the storm had lessened, and two gigantic rainbows formed over the playa. Everything seems outsized at Burning Man this year, from the Man himself to the rain to the wind to even the rainbows.

There didn’t immediately appear to be any physical damage, unlike the other morning when fierce winds near the BLM conclave near Point One took a modular office trailer  airborne and flipped it upside down. The wind also slammed a smaller jail unit into the corner of another modular office, taking out a power box with it.

“That’s why I tell the artists to make sure their installations can withstand 100-mph winds,” Joe the Builder said at the time. “Things happen out here.”

The rainbow over Black Rock City shortly after dawn (photo courtesy of Davis Galligan)
The rainbow over Black Rock City shortly after dawn (photo courtesy of Davis Galligan)

This morning, though, we were mostly just wet all over. The DPW daily meeting was initially moved from the Depot to the Commissary, because the roads were shut down, but then it was canceled altogether when more showers hit. Folks who didn’t get word showed up at the big tent anyway, and Commissary folks helped them take off their “playa boots” at the entrance. (When you walk in wet playa, thick layers of gunk build up on your shoes. Pro tip: Put plastic trash bags on your feet to beat the playa buildup.) At this point the rain seemed more of an annoyance than anything, and Cowboy Carl said, “I always thought women with muddy feet were sexy.”

Most of the crews are still confident that despite the delays and setbacks, they still will be able to get the city ready in time for your arrival.

But there is an undercurrent of danger, too. As Trailer Park Romeo said, “Mother Nature is going to do what she wants to do.”

So please, please please: be ready. Be ready to be self-sufficient. Be ready to shelter in place. Bring food and water and shelter, even a poop bucket. It hasn’t been cold for a number of years, but that doesn’t mean that this won’t be the year it gets chilly. Or worse. And if we get some rough weather, you can tune to BMIR radio for information and guidance.

The principle of radical self-reliance has never seemed more timely.

As Marian put it: “It’s not your mother’s Burning Man. Your mother isn’t here to take care of you, so take care of yourself and your neighbors. … Don’t get caught unaware … like it’s your first rodeo … be prepared.”

After the rain, people played a soccer game in the playa mud
After the rain, people played a soccer game in the playa mud

 

Here are some more pictures from the day:

 

Storm Punches Black Rock City

Folks headed back to camp as the storm got closer
Folks headed back to camp as the storm got closer

Things are drying out nicely today from the vicious storm cell that roared into Black Rock City early last night, reminding us all that Mother Nature has always been and truly remains The Man out here.

What had been a gloriously hot and clear day turned dramatic and nasty not long after sunset. One of the amazing things about being in the desert is the ability to see so much weather happening at once. So while we stood in the middle of the city in blazing sun, we could see dark clouds and jagged lighting streaks storming over Razorback.

It could have been a blessing, though. The playa floor has been extremely dusty, even at this early stage. But the water that hit us last night has tamped everything down, at least temporarily.

One of the tent poles that were snapped at the Spectrum setup near Point 1
One of the tent poles that were snapped at the Spectrum setup near Point 1

The Black Rock Desert could use a lot more rain like last night’s, actually (though preferably not over the last week of August). The surface of Black Rock used to be so smooth and even that land speed records were set here. But that has changed since the ‘80s.

“Some locals blame Burning Man” for the deteriorated playa conditions, said Rusty of the Transportation crew, “but I don’t. You can blame everyone who has a job and drives a car” for the effects of climate change.

The climate definitely changed when the storm hit Black Rock City. Fierce winds caused whiteout conditions, and the Gate crew at Point 1 halted vehicles trying to get onto the playa. When the rain came, a Level 1 weather alert was declared, and everyone was urged to shelter in place. Water turns the desert dust into sticky cement, and it immediately becomes impassible. Even walking is difficult, as inches-deep playa builds up on the bottom of your shoes.

Everything that wasn’t securely tied down, and some things that were, got blown around.

Out near the BLM compound, Shelly from Spectrum Services, who does the catering for work crews on the playa, was surveying the damage to the firm’s setup there.

The Man Krewe cleaned up after the storm
The Man Krewe cleaned up after the storm

“These are rated to withstand 100-mph winds,” she said as she held a broken pole in her hand. “This went through three-quarter-inch plywood.”

Porta-potties were knocked over everywhere, and there was standing water on the road from the highway into Black Rock City. An important shipment of electrical equipment arrived just as the storm hit, but the driver agreed to spend the night in Gerlach and make the delivery in the morning, instead. (more…)