Posts for category Building BRC


August 15th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

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.  Read more »

August 15th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

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.” Read more »

August 14th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

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. Read more »

August 13th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

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. Read more »

August 12th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

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:

 

August 10th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

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. Read more »

August 8th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

Burning Man Put Hundreds of Free Bikes on the Playa: You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!

Ballyhoo Betty at the bike shop on the Burning Man Work Ranch

Ballyhoo Betty at the bike shop on the Burning Man Work Ranch

People basically stole them.

Last year the Yellow Bikes Crew left close to 700 nicely maintained, perfectly working bicycles for Burners to use as they made their way around the playa. This is no corporately sponsored rideshare program, and there are only three rules: Don’t steal or redecorate the bikes; after you finish riding them, leave them for someone else to use; and wear pants when riding them.

Simple, yes?

Well, things didn’t work out that way.

This week at the Burning Man Work Ranch, about 12 miles past the event site, an eight-person crew is working to get the bikes working again and restore them to their original, plain green, condition. You see, people grab those bikes and start customizing them and putting locks on them to make them their own.

So don’t do that, ok? Thanks.

While we’re haranguing you about bad bike behavior, here’s a pro tip: Don’t leave your bike behind when you leave Burning Man.

“People think that if they leave their bikes it’s like donating them,” Andrei said out at the ranch. “But it’s not. They’re just making work for us.”

Andrei scraping off the remnants of decorations put on a Yellow Bike

Andrei scraping off the remnants of decorations put on a Yellow Bike

Last year, the bike crews picked up about 2,000 bikes that the “leave no trace” crowd left behind. Again, there may have been good intentions involved: “This bike will find a great new home with someone who really needs it!” Read more »

August 7th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

Under the Big Top

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The big move from Gerlach to the playa has begun.

For the first several weeks after work crews arrive in town to start building Black Rock City, people bunk in all corners of the struggling little desert village.

Burning Man is of course the biggest industry here. There used to be an active gypsum mine in the next-door town of Empire, but that plant shuttered several years ago, leaving not much to do and not many people to do it.

Bruno is the other big industry in town. The 91-year-old Italian immigrant owns the restaurant and casino, the motel (which we’re told used to be a school), a trailer park and seemingly just about every other commercial enterprise. There are also three bars in town, and no churches. The friends of Black Rock-High Rock have a nice visitor center, and Quinn is opening a pizza parlor and taco place any day now. You can tune to KLAP FM radio while you’re here, and they are located in a small space on Main Street. A nicely appointed post office, a sheriff’s substation, a school and a community center pretty much completes the civic presence.

There are a handful of other places, and they have some great backstories, but we’re about to leave it all behind for our home in the desert. And that also means that instead of eating in the crammed back room at Bruno’s, we’ll be fed and watered in the Commissary that’s set up on the desert site.

To that end, the giant circus tent was erected yesterday, with the help of dozens of pairs of hands plus some heavy equipment from the HEAT crew (heavy equipment and transportation). The Commissary is a … well, we can’t quite bring ourselves to call it a beloved place, but it is at the heart of the experience here. We take our meals there, and so we get to hear what’s going on with the other crews, how the work is progressing, where the evening’s gatherings will take place, and of course juicy gossip is the prime currency.

Sarah and Sylkia go over the game plan

Sarah and Sylkia go over the game plan

In many ways it’s like going back to your high school cafeteria. Where are the cool kids sitting? Who walked in with whom? What is she wearing?? (For the record, a strict “cover your bits” policy is enforced without exception; no one wants to sit where something unsavory might have been parked earlier.)

There are stitch-and-bitch sessions, impromptu participant-led seminars, Ranger training, human resources meetings and all manner of other get-togethers. And even though mealtimes are set in stone (if you miss dinner, you miss dinner, too bad), you can almost always duck in for a cup of coffee or a sport drink. And because there are swamp coolers set up in back, plus an internet connection, it is also often our workspace.

This is the third year for the big tent. We outgrew its predecessor, which often had dinner lines stretching way out into the dust. The organization also feeds many of the law-enforcement people who police the site, and as their numbers have grown, we just plain outgrew the old tent.

An all-hands call goes out when it’s time for the tent-lifting, like some twisted version of an Amish barn-raising. “The new kids look kind of bewildered,” Squirelly was saying as we were about to begin. “One minute they’re out pounding stakes on Gate Road, then it’s ‘OK, now we’re gonna put up a tent!’” But it’s a key task: as Effin Andy said, “You wanna eat, right?”

Sylkia is in her second year as Commissary manager, and she’s been putting up the tent for four. The pressure is on. She and her crew and the Spectrum catering people will be serving breakfast on the playa on Friday. “I think everybody’s morale goes up when we get out here,” she says, and she’s right. We didn’t come here to live in a trailer park; we want to be out in the desert. “I can’t wait to get them out here, seriously,” she says.

The huge white tarp is laid out on the ground, and tall metal poles are positioned accordingly. The tips of the poles have to poke out through holes in the tarp. “Hi, I’m from Camp Innuendo,” one guy said as he searched for the hole.

Chaos giving hand signals to Snake Oil

Chaos giving hand signals to Snake Oil

People then line up along one long side of the tent, and they lift it into place. Straps are secured, and then they move to one of the shorter sides. The process is repeated for the other walls. The three big center poles are last, and they have to be lifted into place with a skid steer. It’s tricky business, but Chaos and Snake Oil get it done.

The older, smaller tent ironically took more muscle to erect, but the big new one is heavier and unwieldy, so heavy equipment is used. Standing nearby as one of the giant center poles is pushed into place, it all seems perilous.

“What could go wrong?” Patches says, repeating our question. “What could go wrong is we don’t eat.”

Morning Notes: Rain? Who said anything about rain? The ominous green swaths that were showing up on the radar maps yesterday morning broke up before they reached the playa, and outside of a few very light sprinkles, it was a dry day in the desert. The sun even broke through in the late afternoon. … Haul Road is still a mess. The center area had been watered and rolled, and it seemed to be drying to a firm surface. But the outer edges that took the traffic yesterday were chewed to a fine, inches-deep talc. … Lex announced that a Gerlach Moop Crawl has been scheduled for Saturday. Leave no trace. … There was no trace of bourbon-infused peaches last night, but the Manhattans were quite refreshing.

Nobody is happier than Sylkia that the tent is up

Nobody is happier than Sylkia that the tent is up

 

And some more pics from the tent lift: