There’s a Black Dot in the Middle of Everything I See

Ranger Halston
Ranger Halston

Kelli Hoversten was a tireless and fearless adventurer. She’d ice climb during the Colorado winters, rock climb in the warmer months, and travel the country in search of her next challenge. She was also an avid reader, devouring four or five books at a time when she wasn’t working on her family’s Missouri cattle ranch.

But not anymore.

At Burning Man 2014, Kelli — you may know her as Ranger Halston — was working with her fellow Black Rock Rangers as a “Sandman”, the caretakers of the inner circle during the Man Burn. While the citizens of Black Rock City watch the Man and the Fire Conclave performances in the Great Circle, Sandman Rangers keep their eyes on the crowd, ensuring nobody makes an ill-advised sprint toward the flames.

Ranger Halston, after the injury
Ranger Halston, after the injury

That was when Kelli’s life was instantaneously and irreversibly changed, when somebody in the crowd pointed a handheld laser at her face, permanently blinding her left eye. And then one mounted on a Mutant Vehicle partially blinded her right eye.

Some Burners think it’s “fun” to aim a laser at the Man, or at the people around them — it’s the functional (and intellectual) equivalent of tagging, I suppose. It used to be no big deal, really. Back in the day, the only lasers that could actually harm somebody were big, unwieldy and expensive, but with recent technological advancements, the $20 laser you picked up and stuck in your pocket can reach 3-10 miles, and it could blind anybody who catches it in the eye. And facing the crowd as they do during big burns, Black Rock Rangers are especially vulnerable.

Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger
Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger

Since the accident, Kelli has been forced to relearn everything she’d come to know in her life, and to reconsider everything she’s taken for granted. “I had no idea how important depth perception is. I don’t think anybody does, until they lose it,” she tells me. She no longer rock climbs or ice climbs. “It’s too dangerous with one eye, and the risk of another injury on top of this? If I lose my other eye, well …” She leaves the sentence hanging in the air. She’s lost her job as an arborist because they can’t insure her now. She’s got enough vision left in her right eye to still be allowed to drive, but just barely, and she’s rightfully worried about losing that privilege. “There’s a black dot in the middle of everything I see.”

Don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either.

It’s too difficult and painful to read as much as she used to, but low-vision therapists are helping with lighting systems that will help a bit. “Reaching out to pick up a water glass now requires thought. Even cutting my food is a challenge. And God, shaving my legs is like a bloodbath,” she laughs. “I sure didn’t see that one coming.”

Halston at Rangers HQ
Halston at Rangers HQ

I hear sadness cutting through the laughter, and I’m struck by her strength. She’s angry, and she has every right to be. Her future was stolen through somebody’s ignorance. But she’s not bitter. More than anything, as she comes to terms with the fact that she’ll never have her former life back, she’s most concerned about making sure others are aware of the dangers of modern handheld lasers. Makes sense, really. She’s a Black Rock Ranger.

Kelli is raising funds to cover the lost wages and medical bills she’s accumulated since the injury, carrying her over until (and hopefully beyond) her Workers’ Comp claim gets processed by Burning Man’s insurance company. Please join with us as we help her, if you can.

But more importantly, don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either. And don’t bring them to Burning Man ever again — it’s just not worth the risk to the livelihood of another human being. Share this story around. That’s what Kelli really wants. That’s what Burning Man wants.

What the Heck Happened with Will Call Last Year?

The Box Office, 2014 (Photo by Nimbus)
The Box Office, 2014 (Photo by Nimbus)

Hello! I’m Rebecca Throne, aka nimbus, and I manage Ticketing for Burning Man, including Box Office operations on the playa. 2014 was a tough year for the Box Office, and if you were one of the many people picking up tickets at Will Call you may have had the misfortune of experiencing that firsthand. For some context: the Black Rock City Box Office operates 24/7 for 11 days. In 2014, some participants on five of those days experienced excessive wait times of up to seven hours or more, which is unacceptable by any standard.

What happened?

  • As has been our policy in previous years, all tickets sold through the OMG Sale, STEP, the Low Income Ticket program, and those sold to international participants were held for Will Call pick up at the Box Office. This is in addition to tickets bought in our other sales by those who choose Will Call pick up.
  • In 2014, the Box Office was faced with even more volume than ever. We were able to add some late-season ticket releases, which were all distributed via the Will Call-only channels of STEP and the OMG Sale in August.
  • With the change of ticketing partners in 2014, we had to get up to speed with learning a new system and training the Box Office team, some of which took place onsite.
  • The introduction of vehicle passes in 2014 meant we were handling twice as many physical things, so each transaction took a bit longer.
  • We were understaffed for the flow of tickets and people coming to the Box Office for tickets.

A tremendous amount of information-gathering, research, and strategizing has taken place since the event. In addition to collecting input from community discussions we’ve been monitoring online, we’ve also conducted our own in-depth debrief process, and hosted a cross-departmental forum to gather potential solutions. We’ve gotten a ton of valuable input, and we’ve incorporated much of it into our approach for 2015.

So what are we doing to fix it?

It’s important to understand that there is no single silver-bullet panacea that will fix the problem. Just as the long wait times were a byproduct of numerous systems buckling under increased stress, the approach to solve it will also need to be multi-pronged. Here are a few of the changes we’re working on:

  1. For the first time, you’ll be able to choose to have your STEP and OMG Sale tickets shipped to you. This alone can reduce volume by thousands of orders, and has the potential for the largest impact in reducing overall traffic to the Box Office. We are also investigating alternative shipping options for international ticket buyers.
  2. We are increasing staffing levels at the Box Office. With more people to assist participants, we’ll be able to process more requests in a shorter period of time.
  3. We’re designing a better model for Box Office operations, including changes to our roles, reengineering our training process, and expanding the number of days the Box Office is open to take care of Early Arrivals and staff.
  4. And finally, we’re redesigning our physical infrastructure (adding more windows and shade, implementing some ‘queue theory’ best practices, increasing informational signage, etc.) so it can better handle the load and make for a smoother experience for everyone (it wasn’t fun for us, either!).

While print-at-home tickets has been floated as a possible solution, there are a number of practical reasons we believe this is not the best fit for Burning Man, the most important being our commitment to preventing counterfeiting (there is no way to prevent print-at-home tickets from being photocopied). Other, more cultural reasons, include the fact that gifting physical tickets is a longstanding tradition in our community. We’re positive we can address the Box Office’s challenges without that solution right now, but we will continue to revisit the idea as necessary.

We are learning from our experience in 2014 and making changes in order to get it right in 2015. We’re using this as an opportunity to optimize our systems, and to ensure you have the best possible experience at the Box Office in the future. All told, we hope to cut the number of transactions at the Box Office down by nearly half.

How can you help?

There are a number of things you can do to help both before, and when you arrive, at the Box Office:

  1. If at all possible, have your tickets shipped to you. Choose the delivery option that works best for your travel plans. Last year we expanded our offerings to include UPS 2nd day, which is especially helpful for those traveling long distances who leave home long before the event begins, and have opted for the security of Will Call in the past. This option gives more people the viable option of delivery instead of Will Call.
  2. If you or anyone you know (like somebody in your vehicle, for instance) is expecting to pick up an order from the Box Office, encourage them to be prepared, with their order confirmation and valid legal ID handy. This will speed up processing times.
  3. Join us! We’re greatly increasing our Box Office staff this year. We screen folks heavily for accountability and specialized skillset, and so we frequently rely on personal referrals. If you are looking for a new playa family and have great in-person customer service experience, are savvy using point-of-sale systems, are the epitome of grace under pressure, and/or are a front-of-house ninja, please get in touch with us at boxoffice here: boxoffice (at) burningman.com and fill in/update your volunteer questionnaire to indicate that you want to work with Box Office. (Keep in mind that because we make a significant investment in training people, we require our crew to work a minimum of four 6-hour shifts.)

I hope this helps give a better understanding of what created the situation we faced in 2014 and what we’re doing to address it. Please know that we are keenly aware of the problem, we agree that what happened in 2014 was unacceptable, and we are confident the changes we are implementing will significantly improve the Box Office experience for 2015.

I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments below – we look forward to reading them and continuing the conversation.

 

Tap the Sun! Solar Camping on Playa with RASPA

Dave Marr was Burning Man’s web team project manager back in the day (think late 90s – early aughts), and he now makes a spectacle of himself volunteering for Media Mecca. And well, he’s hopped on the solar bandwagon, and (like every good hippy) now he wants to share the gospel with YOU. Here’s Dave:

“O’ is my power to capture the sun and control the lighting!”

Dave's slick solarized camp
Dave’s slick solarized camp (photo by Dave Marr)

Since 1998, I’ve camped in Black Rock City every way imaginable. I’ve slept in tents, in the back of trucks, in RVs old and new, and even atop of a hay bale on burn night — at a close but safe distance from the fiery embers.

I’ve been a member of small camps and large villages on The Esplanade, on the Center Camp grid, deep within street-sign-required territories, and even once went rogue and guerrilla on the back-side, aka the outer ring, also affectionately referred to as The Assplande.

Electricity, bitches! (photo by Dave Marr)
Electricity, bitches! (photo by Dave Marr)

In all of my adventures, I’ve learned the greatest comfort of all on the playa is, without a doubt, not cigarettes or aged whisky, but having electricity. That mysterious life-feeding juice required by lights, music, A/C, air-pumps, electronics, cameras, batteries, etc. In short, everything annoying, addictive and unholy in our modern world. Apologies to those from Darktardia Village. You live in a world I do not understand.

For me, each year is another opportunity for a new experience or personal journey. This year I decided to go solar by participating in the inaugural RASPA (Radically Affordable Solar for Playa Artists) program provided by those industrious non-profit do-goers at Black Rock Solar. $50 per panel rental, from Aug 18 to Sept 2. Not bad. Not bad at all.

This was my setup:

(1) 235w Solar Panel (1) 750a Deep Cycle Marine Battery (1) 500w Inverter (1) Solar Charge Controller

The panel gathers the energy, the charge controller moderates and monitors the energy flow, the battery stores the electricity, and the inverter is what you plug devices into. Basically it’s less than a milk-crate of gear not including the panel. With this I created my own personal electrical grid to power a handful of LED lights, Bluetooth speakers, iPod, iPad, phone, my MacBook Pro and bevy of camera batteries. I was working on a 20-day documentary project. So I needed power every day, all day, and without fail.

Dave's camp is totally LIT. (photo by Dave Marr)
Dave’s camp is totally LIT. (photo by Dave Marr)

The upside of individual solar: it’s basically plug ‘n’ play, totally quiet (no obnoxious generator sound!), and best of all it’s self-sustaining with no gasoline to buy, refill or spill. No clogged air filters either.

The downside: you have to maintain your deep cycle battery, i.e. continuously use it or put it on a trickle charger year round to keep its integrity. Personally, I consider this a good reason to set up a string of LED lights on a timer in my backyard.

In honesty, I did have one major hiccup … I didn’t properly plug my solar panel into the charge control at the start. For four days I watched (via the charge controller) as my battery level slipped from green to red until it went dead. There aren’t many things that can go wrong with solar but I found an important one. Hook your shit up right foo! When I corrected the wiring mistake it took (no lie) ONE afternoon of sunlight to fully recharge my battery.

One. Afternoon. Bitches. Then, my battery stayed in the green until I packed it out. Oh, and the cost of my solar setup was less than a ticket to the event.

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Halcyon’s Tips & Tricks #15


Some of these are reminders, but need repeating.
TOPICS:

  • Bike Borrowing
  • Porto Potties Basics
  • Leave No Trace – ANYWHERE
  • Respect The Art
  • Mandatory Adventure Bag*
  • Meeting (non-placed) campmates (Or listen to Caveat’s alternative Tip)
  • & more

You can check out ALL my Tips & Tricks videos at Lustmonkey.com or search my name on this blog.

* CONTENTS of Mandatory Adventure Bag: dustmask/goggles/water bottle/light jacket/flashlight/1ply TP/wet nap & zip lock/ lip balm/sunscreen, sunglasses, cup/spoon.

Burning Man 2014 Rules and Regulations

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 3.48.03 pm
Hint: download the PDF, it’s much easier to read.

Is my medical marijuana card valid in Black Rock City? Can I have an open container on an art car? Can I bring fireworks? What’s the speed limit? Is it cool if I pee on the playa?

These questions and more are answered in this handy 2-page infographic PDF containing all the key rules and regulations that are enforced in Black Rock City.

Download the PDF, print it (if you need to) and make sure your friends and campmates know what’s in there … before you head to Black Rock City.

Why, here it is now!

Want to Avoid Getting Pulled Over at Burning Man? Obey the Law

policecar
Cue that sinking feeling.

Law Enforcement Officers in (and on the way to and from) Black Rock City are sworn to uphold the law. Just like in the real world, it’s up to Burning Man participants to know those laws and to follow them. Note that if you are stopped, the officer may choose to have a dog sniff the outside of your vehicle looking for contraband.  

Here are the laws that you should be aware of to avoid being pulled over. LEOs particularly watch for the following in and around Black Rock City:

  1. Speeding: drive the speed limit at all times … the speed limit on Gate Road is 10mph and within BRC (after the Greeters station) is 5mph.
  2. Safe driving: drive carefully and safely, wear your seatbelt, don’t drive erratically, ride on the roof of your vehicle or hang off the side, or drink and drive … and use your turn signals.
  3. Obscured license plates: make sure your rear license plate isn’t blocked by your bike, bike rack, dirt or anything else (you might consider attaching your license plate to your bike so it’s clearly visible, but if you do, make sure it’s illuminated with a clip-on LED).
  4. Registration tags: have up-to-date valid registration tags on your vehicle AND trailer.
  5. Non-functioning lights: make sure your license plate lights, tail lights, running lights, turn signals and headlights are all working.
  6. Open container: don’t have an open alcohol container in your vehicle.
  7. Load & littering: make sure your load is safely and reasonably attached, and don’t toss anything out the window.
  8. Non-permitted driving: once you enter BRC and park your vehicle at your campsite, you cannot drive it in Black Rock City without a BRC Department of Mutant Vehicles-issued permit sticker.

Of course, always carry a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Lastly, being nice if you do get pulled over makes things go much smoother.

Art Tours? Yes, we have Art Tours.

Mike Garlington's Photo Chapel  Photo by Anthony Peterson
Mike Garlington’s Photo Chapel
Photo by Anthony Peterson

One thing that keeps me coming back to Black Rock City each year is the ART.

It has been said many times that the playa is a blank slate, a tabula rasa, a seemingly infinite empty space that all of us who are the Burning Man community fill up for a week with so much art that it is bursting at the seams, and seeing how the playa challenges artists is a thing of beauty.

Our artists are playa hardened. They are well aware of how a massive, not unexpected dust storm affects agility of machinery and mechanics. They know how a rain storm stops all forward momentum and that a wind gust can topple the mightiest monument. In the environment of Black Rock City, just spending months building an art piece and transporting it is only a small part of the challenges that artists face to fill up that space. They are planning for an art show at the edge of the apocalypse, with insidious alkaline powder invading every electronic device, with huge and heavy sculptural forms being moved across the soft packed playa surface all using an infrastructure they and Burning Man set up for only a few weeks a year.

Art Tours at Everywhere Photo Moze
Art Tours at Everywhere
Photo Moze

Our artists are aware of the vastness of the space they are attempting to fill up. I believe they are basically mad to even attempt to do what they do every year and those of us who are not building art out there are so fortunate to be at this point in history; to be a part of this thing we call Burning Man.

Sometimes on playa, we can take the art for granted. You will always stumble into something wonderful on your journeys to and fro and that is indeed planned. But for you art junkies out there who want to see it ALL each year, the ARTery is Black Rock City’s portal for Art Tours, and this year there is a panoply of options to explore.

A web page with all the information you need is in the works, but here are some details for now. You should stop by the ARTery at 6:30 and Esplanade, next to Everywhere, if you are interested in any of these tours. The ARTery’s hours are 9am to 6pm every day (closed for lunch from 1-2pm) and they would love to see you! Keep reading for all you need to know about Art Tours this year.

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Growing Up Burning

The Catch - Norman RockwellThe last time a debate about children at Burning Man flared up, I asked one of the people I knew who had grown up as a “burner kid” what she thought about the question.  Electra Carr went to her first Burning Man when she was 11.  Now 21, she sent an eloquent response to my question … which got lost between inboxes for a year-and-a-half because I really am that bad at getting back to people sometimes.  

So this is a horribly late addition to the debate, but is still worth reading.  

Other kids of burners want to weigh in?  Leave a comment at the bottom, or if you had a growing up experience at Burning Man and want to write a guest essay about it, send me a message.  (Caveat at BurningMan dot com).  I’ll try to get back to you a little sooner.  I swear.

From here on, the words you read are Electra’s.

– Caveat

 

There has been endless discussion about the subject of children attending Burning Man. I have heard the many opinions scattered across the board, from people who do take their kids and think its vital part of their childhood and parents who can’t imagine bringing their children into the desert. People who think it should be each person’s choice, others who rally for a committee to decide. There are those who are uncomfortable with the thought of a kid wandering past while they may be doing something they deem inappropriate for young eyes and people who are fine with having kids attend as long as they’re cordoned off in Kidsville. And of course, people who really don’t care and wish everyone would just stop talking about it.

However, at the focal point of this topic there is an opinion that has been greatly overlooked.  What about the children themselves who had grown up amongst the culture? It is a voice worth exploring, and as no two experiences are ever the same at Burning Man, I’d like to encourage everyone to talk to a Burner kid about it. I was such a child and while I’ve grown away from the Burning Man culture and rarely make the pilgrimage out to the Playa, I was there, I experienced, and I was changed.

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