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.
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.
“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…)
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.
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.”
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!” (more…)
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.
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.
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.
The good news is it’s nice and cool. The bad news is everyone is mostly in hurry-up-and-wait mode.
Hurricanes and near-hurricanes in the far Pacific are sucking all the wet air from East to West over the U.S., and the result is that Gerlach and Black Rock city have been under cloud cover for two days now, and there’s been enough rain to bring work to a halt for the time being.
The situation is similar to what happened last year, when storm cells blasted the playa a few days in, turning the 10,000-year-old lakebed into a sea of muck. Water immediately turns the fine playa dust to something like cement, and you can’t drive through it or walk through, much less work in it.
Lessons were learned last year, so when the threatening weather was approaching Black Rock City, managers told their crews to batten the hatches and put the tools away and be ready to rocket back to Gerlach on a moment’s notice. That notice came in the early afternoon, and the build crews got a snow day off.
Skeleton crews toughed it out on the playa. About 40 well-provisioned people were manning stations at HEAT, Oculus and Power, and from what we hear, they handled things quite well. Patches even made chili for the troops, and there was a burn barrel going at the Heavy Equipment yard.
The Man Base crew took delivery of three giant pieces of the Man’s giant skeleton in the morning, and when we rolled up to get a look at the proceedings, we were asked how many folks could pile in the car to get off playa, if necessary. Three. “My hero!” Mig said. We are not used to hearing words like that aimed in our direction.
The Man, by the way, will stand on two legs that are each about 75 feet tall. They are 24×24-inch laminate boards, and they are giant. His spine is about 45 feet long. Everyone in Gerlach took a minute to look at the trailer rig that was taking the lumber out to the playa.
“You lose all sense of size and distance out here,” Goatt was saying at Man Base, “but these things are huge.” Yes indeed. The Man will be huge. We wondered last year how they could ever top the giant spaceship that the Man stood on, but this is going to be pretty spectacular. Giant. Gargantuan. And relatively simple in design: A giant Man standing ten stories tall. (more…)
It was dusty, it was windy, but it wasn’t hot, and for that we’re all grateful.
The combined forces of Black Rock City put up 9.2 miles of trash fence yesterday, and they finished before 2:30 in the afternoon.
“Great crew,” project leader Just George said, noting that another speed record had been set. The stake pounding was finished before 9 am, and the whole job was done and beers were being drunk before school would have gotten out.
There was no time to linger and bask in the glory, though, as a fierce wind kicked up just as the fence was finished, causing near white-out conditions. That and sprinkles of rain chased everyone to their vehicles and then back to town.
Even though it was still relatively early in the afternoon, it seemed like the day had begun in some other time zone. The first people on the playa were Fluffer Nips and her associates, and they were out there making breakfast for the crews at 4 in the morning. By the time the sluggards arrived around 5, the coffee was hot and the eggs were ready. Yes, this was going to be a tough day, but it was starting the right way.
“Can’t you feel it?” Slim asked. There’s just a tension in the air! The radio was just crackling all morning!” There were plenty of people feeling it. An impromptu dance party broke out not long after Customer Service said it was time to bump up the music.
We don’t want to project our feelings, but it seemed like it might have been a nervous excitement. The crews were there to build a damn fence, and building the damn fence meant pounding a whole lot of stakes in the ground, and then hours of dusty, grunty, finger-shredding work. But you almost forgot how hard it was going to be because of all the energy and excitement.
But just do the math: There was 9.2 miles of fence to build, so: (more…)
The sign that welcomes you to Gerlach notes, “Attitude: Good. Population: Wanted.”
The town is very much getting what it wants in these past few days, because 300, maybe more, Burning Man people have moved into town, getting ready to build the nine miles of trash fence that demarcates the city and serves to keep trash from blowing all over the desert.
We’re still in something of a quiet zone, though, and the only visible sign of progress that have taken place so far has been the precise placing of 3,000-4,000 multicolored flags onto the desert floor. These flags are the result of the Survey team’s week of work.
A million years ago when we first started coming out to the playa early (well, it feels like that long), we wanted to see what the desert was like before all the art, before all the tents, before all the RVs, before all the everything was put in place in Black Rock City.
So we came up for Fence, but we were wrong about it being the first thing that happens.
Even before the fence goes up, the very first camp will have already set up at Burning Man 2014, and they will also have already broken down their stuff and moved onward. Some folks will take up other duties on the various crews, and some folks will take off for good, having had enough of the desert and the community for another year.
Because before the fence goes up, you have to figure out where it’s going to go. In fact, you have to figure out where just about everything is going to go – where the Man will stand, where the Esplanade will be, where walk-in camping will go. That’s where the Survey team comes in. Eighteen intrepid souls who are on hand for Spike then start work immediately to lay the groundwork for the city where eventually almost 70,000 people will live for a week or so.
Black Rock City is precisely laid out around a clockwork grid. The Center Camp Café is at 6 o’clock on the clock face, the Temple is at 12 o’clock, and the Man is at the midway point between the two. The first ring of roads is known as the Esplanade, and lettered streets from A through L radiate out around it. These are intersected by spokes of the clock; there are mini-promenades at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, and you can find your pals out here if they leave word they are staying at, say, 3:30 and J.
Something else also happens during that week before the build begins: The eighteen people on the Survey team have their own little Burning Man gathering.
“It’s my favorite week of the year,” says Coyote, the Superintendent of the city. “It’s better than Chrisma…. Well, now I’m a family man, so I can’t say Christmas. But it’s like that. … I can imagine being out here when I’m 80, with my kids on the Survey team.” (more…)
This is the story of the Spike, the first official act of the Burning Man season, which is important because of all the ritualized practices that have grown up around the event, this one might be the most heartfelt and stirring.
But this story is also about the beginning the work that is necessary to build Black Rock City, which will become home (or Home with a capital H, as the participants like to refer to it) for somewhere around 70,000 people, who will gather in the desert at the end of August and over the Labor Day weekend to celebrate art and express themselves radically, among other things.
It’s ironic that Burning Man takes place around a national holiday, because Burning Man has reset the calendar for many people. For them, the year is about the season of the Man; and it culminates when the Man burns on the Saturday of the event. That day is their New Year’s Eve, and after the Temple burns, a new year begins.
So we are into the high holy days now, and to carry the metaphor just a step further, Spike becomes something like Christmas. It’s not so much about the giving of gifts or the birth of a savior, but rather it is more about an affirmation of hope. Maybe in some ways it’s Easter, too, because the feeling of renewal and rebirth is strong.
Maybe this religiosity makes you nervous, but we are not talking about deities here, or paganism, or any other worshipfulness. What we are talking about are the things that bind people together – hope, love, community. It’s no random accident that people say they are going Home when they go to Burning Man, because for many people, this is the family they have chosen.
Here is an outline of what happens over these days: The first of the crews arrive in Gerlach several weeks before Spike happens. The season begins earlier than you might realize. The logistics and office work and ordering of goods and arranging for services takes months. The tiny town of Gerlach begins to fill up with the folks who make the event happen.
Then, a few weeks in, there is a ceremony that marks the official start of the organization’s presence in the Black Rock Desert, and it is when the people who are most intimately involved with building the city gather together to collectively drive a stake in the ground, the exact point upon which the Man will be built. But before they take the sledgehammer in their hands and strike their ceremonial blow, they will say a few words to the assembled crowd. They will speak of their intentions, their joy, their sorrows and disappointments. Or they might be completely absurd, depending. There is no script.
But mostly, people take advantage of the opportunity to speak from the heart, to people who love them and will stand by them. There are often tears in the deathly hot desert, from both the speakers and the listeners.
Coyote is the superintendent of Black Rock City, and he takes the hammer and speaks first. “Every year we put the stake in the ground, and every year we change people’s lives,” he says. “And every year people take a little piece of Black Rock City home with them in their backpacks … little embers. … It’s a break from the normal madness. None of the mudslinging and politics and crap that’s in the news every day.”
Some people carry umbrellas to keep from getting scorched by the sun, many people have beverages in their hands, and there are shouts of agreement, as well as catcalls and whistles. Nothing gets overly solemn or cheesy. But somehow the words penetrate the everyday armor of cynicism and safe distance.
“It’s hot out today,” Coyote says, “So I’m not going to talk much. And we ask that you do the same!”
And then others step forward to take the sledgehammer and say a few words.
Will Roger, who founded Black Rock City’s Department of Public Works, says, “My hat’s off to all of you for keeping the spirit of DPW alive. A remarkable, dedicated, wonderful group of people. Here’s to you.” Then he hands the sledge to “the only person I love more than DPW, my wife, Rosie.” That would be Crimson Rose, who directs many of the fiery things that attract the Burner moths to the desert, who has been at Burning Man for 23 years. “We couldn’t do it without you,” she says.
Playground takes the sledge and says, “Every time I say the word ‘cancer’ I want you to say, “Fuck Cancer.’” Her husband is home undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. “Fuck Cancer!!” people shout. She asks some of her colleagues to join her in the center of the circle. “These are the people who have totally had my back as we go through this cancer nightmare,” she says. “Fuck Cancer!” the crowd roars back. “I could not do it without these guys. They make me shine. You make them shine.”
Dylan Blackthorne comes forward. “A long time ago I decided that I was going to focus my energies on building the world that I wanted to live in,” he says, “instead of fighting the world that I did not want to live in. This is part of that.”
There are warnings and pleas to take care of each other, and for us to take care of ourselves. There are many people grateful for the opportunity to serve. And there is more heartbreak.
“I learned during (desert restoration) last year that my father had gone into hospice,” Makeout Queen says, through her tears, “and then he died in January. It’s been a really hard year. … And I moved out of the only home I ever knew, and the only community I ever knew. And it’s been really crazy. … But coming out here, and seeing ALLL of you motherfuckers, makes me realize that I made the right decisions. And the only reason I made the right decisions, is that all of you motherfuckers tell me to stop making the dumb ones.”
All of the stories were not alike, but many had similar themes – sorrow, joy, the gratefulness for being here again. There were people who had been doing this for ten years, fifteen years and more, and others who were there for the first time. If you weren’t moved by what was said, it wouldn’t have made sense for you to be there at all, really.
When all the people who wanted to speak had spoken, Coyote took a bottle of Champagne and smashed it into the Spike. People rushed to pick up the shards of glass, and then the ceremony was over. People drifted off the desert floor and back into Gerlach, to get ready for the next task.
But a few folks stayed behind to begin the actual work of building Black Rock City. The eighteen people who are on the Survey would start plotting out the map and marking the outline of the city onto the desert floor.
This has been a busy year at Burning Man HQ; a move, a new Project, a lot of activity, worldwide outreach and of course, planning for TTITD, however, we were able to get all the reports in, find images for each page, format everything and QA the beast known as the AfterBurn 2013.
Last year’s Census has been turned into a beautiful single document and in the AfterBurn you can read all about the challenges faced and met, the fantastic Art that graced the playa, organizational and city infrastructural updates with new strategies moving forward, and as always, you can read reports from all the teams that make Burning Man happen.
With the new Burning Man galleries we’ve created a new moderator account and we’re able to grab images that aren’t in the gallery (and give credit to the photographers of course). Many thanks to Mr. John Curley who shared some DPW pics from his most excellent blogs and also thanks David Marr who also took some great pre-event pics. And thank you ALL Burners who take your photos of the event and share them on the Burning Man galleries. Special thanks to Scotto for the QA.
The AfterBurn is becoming a nice ongoing history of Burning Man.