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.
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.
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…)