I’ve got a whole bunch of goodies for you today, so go ahead and get excited. It’s gonna be a good day.
The autumn days here in the Black Rock have been sunny and calm, a bit on the warm side maybe. The pre-season bugs have not returned, the dust storms haven’t been battering our skin, eyes and lungs … heck, it isn’t even too cold in the mornings.
With calm and clear conditions, the Playa Restoration line sweepers are making good progress. On Day 2, they marched through 54 city blocks, along the back ‘burbs of Black Rock City. What they found was a mixed bag, if we’re being honest here. Again, the vast majority of the territory was impressively vacant of moop. However, a couple of spots got a little out of control. Want to see? Of course you do!
There are certain DPW types among us who have been here long enough to start “in my day”-ing people. We try not to do it that often — regale newer volunteers with horror stories of our pre- and post-event Ranch living back at the turn of last century — but when we’re asked, we can go on sometimes. Crews wandering off, rice with maggots in it, overworking constantly, stress-fights, and piles of junk with no OSHA regulators in sight.
We try to use as little emotion as possible when telling the kiddoes about the days before the Internet exploded, before the DPW developed a vast and internecine infrastructure.
This writer joined the DPW in 1998, staying for cleanup here and there sometimes over the years, until 2008. As always with this Burning Dude thing, the DPW was making it up as we went along. Seven years later, this writer has once again stayed in the desert past Last Supper to document Playa Restoration, and boy have things changed.
Playa Restoration manager D.A. joined DPW cleanup in 1999 and changed the name to Playa Restoration in 2005. He’s now the general who strategizes with maps, leading the charge at day’s beginning as we set sail from the shoreline for the open sea of Lahontan to search for MOOP.
“It was raw,” D.A. agrees about the olden times. “We weren’t as well-funded. We weren’t as healthy becaause we didn’t know what it meant to be healthy out here. The Fluffers changed everything for the DPW.”
[Fluffers, for those who don’t know, have nothing to do with pornography and everything to do with driving around huge utility trucks full of snacks, drinks, and self-care sundries. They huck heavy coolers full of water and ice and make sure we don’t die.]
“We used to get dropped off in the middle of nowhere with just a bucket of water, and sometimes it spilled over,” D.A. says. “Now we have buses that stay with us — and radios. We didn’t have portapotties with us. We dealt with it but it was time-consuming. Now we have a person whose job it is to keep a portajohn with the lines.
“We have a 24/7 auto shop,” says D.A. “When we broke down before, it was for the whole day. We didn’t get as much done. The system we have is still the same system — it’s just evolving.”
D.A. branched out in his own Burning Man DPW cleanup career by joining Special Forces in 2002 — a new crack team of capable people assembled by Phyxx to deal with the moopy hot spots. There was rivalry at first. These days, everyone on the line sweep crews gets to be Special Forces for a day or two.
“But the line sweeps are the heart of the matter,” D.A. says. “They just needed love. We put the Fluffers, Portajohns, and buses at the line sweeps. Special Forces can roll.”
When speaking of ye olde DPW Days, it’s always hard to avoid sounding like a Russian grandmother visiting an American grocery store for the first time. Some of the vintage DPW crew still huddle together to gush over the delicious meals our Resto kitchen now serves us — serves us with a smile, without yelling, without leaning over to dump their shirtless tits in the food, and without maggots.
HELLO out there, all you MOOP maniacs and line sweepers extraordinaire! Step right up as we kick off the final show of 2015: the magical, miraculous, totally mind-bending escapades of the DPW Playa Restoration hotshots.
Can it really be only two weeks since you bid the playa adieu, people of Black Rock City? In that achingly short time, the city vanished back into the dust, leaving behind only a few faint traces. And now, the Resto MOOP lines are erasing even those.
As always, it’s a race against time: as the winds bluster their way through the vacant heart of the Wild West, as the clouds lower and the Bureau of Land Management prepares its inspection of our desert home, everything hangs on this one question:
Will the MOOP lines make it through the city in time?
If you’re unfamiliar: Playa Restoration, now in its tenth year, is a hotshot crew of 140 diehards and blowhards, who brave the heat, the cold, the dust, the boredom, and the biting flies as they walk every single block of Black Rock City, picking up every last bit of MOOP, so we can pass our annual site inspection with the BLM. A successful inspection means Burning Man happens next year, if you want it to. A failed inspection … well, let’s try not to go there.
After the citizens of Black Rock City (that’s you!) pack up every bit of the carnival and take it back, in tattered, dusty pieces, to the real world, the Resto crew comes in to restore the playa. We walk the city, picking up every last piece of MOOP we see. As we do, we track everything we find and report it back to you in the form of a Moop Map. This is our collective report card, a record of how well Burning Man erased its tracks. It’s a shared effort that involves every one of us, and with every year that passes, we get better and better at leaving our site clean and green.
Over the next two weeks, I and my fellow blogger Summer Burkes will be giving you the real stories of Restoration, and oh yes, we’ll be unveiling the 2015 Moop Map as fast as the Resto crew can fill it in. 2014 was overwhelmingly green. Can we repeat that victory in 2015?
Do yall know who invented Burning Man’s trash fence in 1995? Lawrence Breed — inventor of the world’s first computer animation language and system, and also the playa’s longest-running art piece besides the Man himself: Chaotick, the flaming tether ball.
Danger Ranger, Vanessa Kuemmerle, Burning Man co-founder John Law, and other Cacophony organizers had been tearing their hair out over the sad reality of trash blowing from the Black Rock City site downwind and off into the desert during their Zone Trip. One of the Cacophony Society’s main uh, guidelines, is to leave everything better than you found it.
So Breed, called “Ember,” was and is a genius computer scientist who, with a friend, overheard these managerial woes and brought out and road-tested 75 feet of trash-catching orange fence to make sure it worked.
Breed presented his winning example of hard-plastic gatekeeping to the Operations team, who were understandably beside themselves with joy. The trash fence was and still is one of the greatest ideas in Burning Man leave-no-trace history.
The fence is also an iconic piece of Burning Man visual continuity. But this year … this year … there’s blue string. Not orange string to go with the orange fence, but some blue string. As in, not orange. Some of us, particularly Stinger, are freaked out about the blue string.
On Monday, while the Fence was being built, this writer sat in the Dispatch booth at the saloon, wrangling dusty radios and telling the Lawrence-Breed-invented-the-trash-fence-and-helped-invent-APL story to so many people that official DPW photographer-blogger John Curley — who missed his annual Fence Day photography spree because delays in arrival happen in the DPW — made us write it up here.
Do yall know what APL is? We didn’t either until we searched on it when John Law first told us about Breed being a part of our proto-DPW history.
At Stanford in 1961, Breed invented the world’s first computer and animation language and system, using it for Stanford football games to program a 100-foot-by-100-foot array of colored square cards.
Breed then corresponded with a Harvard professor named Kenneth Iverson who had invented proto-APL as a mathematical notation for algorithms.
Breed and his crew transformed Iverson’s mathematics into a computer-programming language source code devised to work with mathematics with an emphasis on array processing. They dubbed it APL (short for “a programming language”), turning it into a widely-used programming language like no other, and implementing it en machina starting with the IBM 7090 in 1965. You make spreadsheets because of Breed and co.’s APL implementation.
Then, if that’s not enough for you, in 1972, Breed and Francis Bates III wrote one of Earth’s first worldwide email systems, which they called “Mailbox.”
More than two decades later, in the non-default world of Black Rock City, Breed became an oldest-of-schools Burning Man attendee and Cacophony Society member who helped with the original Black Rock Gazette newspaper as well as later co-founding the Black Rock Beacon.
Danger Ranger didn’t even know any of all this about how Ember pretty much helped uh, invent the internet until last night when we told him at the Black Rock Saloon.
Danger just knew Breed/Ember as the guy who invented the trash fence, as well as the flaming tether ball and a half dozen genius Cacophonist-on-playa, possibly-world-helping inventions like the greywater-obliterating Evapotron, or “Gray-B-Gon” (complete with open-source online instructions).
No really, check out the Gray-B-Gon — especially if you or someone you know has a theme camp with greywater.
Burning Man setup means a constant stream of stories proving you never know who you could be talking to under that messy tutu.
Fence yesterday? Dawn Patrol was led by Just George and Cowboy Carl, as always — two proud former military men who became cowboys of sorts. They are kind and crusty-fatherly super-men who could easily be models for action figures, who represent pretty much the pinnacle of proper masculinity.
Yes we are swooning over Just George, who makes us do pushups, and over Cowboy Carl, who taught us how to scatter herds of cattle standing in the middle of the road by rolling your truck window down and banging on the door.
If a group behaves like its alphas, then these two may be a large reason why DPW is such a draw. The world has too many assholes in it, and Just George and Cowboy Carl are here to protect us from acting too much like them, and to teach us cheerfully to protect others and the earth in turn — from assholes, and from trash blowing past us to where we can’t get to it to pick it up.
The trucks had been loved up on by auto shop, loaded with fence materials, and made ready to roll the day before. Fluffers were awake by 3am; “dawn patrol” worker teams left the trailer park at 4am.
Crews ate a quick bite on the Black Rock shoreline and got to work as the sun rose pink over the fire-smoke mist. Another equally large wave of DPW crewmembers left for work at 7am.
All day long, the radios crackled with nonstop trash-fence action and beaten deadlines. Milestones were announced over the repeater over background cascades of “woo” noises. We found Bachmann Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business” stuck in our heads on repeat.
By 8:30am, the pounders had finished. That’s zero-eight-thirty, in Just George language. By 1:45 pm, fence was done.
Of course, it’s only another record because pre-event DPW staff and volunteer count has grown by a few hundred people. A decade and a half ago, when there were only 30-40 of us in the DPW, putting up the trash fence took Cowboy Carl and his team two weeks.
Suggestion by suggestion, and learned lesson by learned lesson, this largely leaderless group of freaks learned together to build and strike a temporary city, all by ourselves, together. Not with ease so much as with collaboration and a crap-ton of meetings. Chaos with a thin layer of organization.
Things get done much more quickly when there are fewer power relationships to contend with. Even hard labor seems easier in an anarchist city.
Good times are had most days by most people in the DPW — which is also different now, because we know enough not to accidentally overwork and underfeed a thin crew any more.
And we have an unassuming, DPW-orange fence — invented by a secret internet genius, helmed by cowboy servicemen, and constructed annually by a dusty cast of black-clad hundreds — to catch most of the trash.
For nearly a full year now, an international crew of artists, craftspeople, designers, builders, engineers (and at least one poet) have been working nonstop to create a temple for Mazu, Goddess of the Empty Sea — a piece you’ll soon be able to experience and interact with on playa. What’s more, they’ve turned this project into a new arts collective that could keep them working on similar projects for years to come.
Photographer Aleksey Bochkovsky has documented many a workday with this crew. Here’s a look at what they’re doing, and more about what makes Mazu’s temple, and its crew, unique. All photos by Aleksey.
“We’re raising the bar for craftsmanship, detail and interactivity,” says project leader Nathan Parker, who previously worked for several years as an electrician for the Black Rock City Department of Public Works.
“Most of the art that people create to be burned has a temporary feel,” he continues.
“We want this to feel real and permanent. We want people to say, ‘Why are you going to burn that? Don’t burn that!’”
But it will burn. The Mazu temple’s laser-cut panels; its hand-painted, sanded, stained woodwork; its arching 40-foot-high lotus flower will all go away. In the process, they’ll reveal the underlying steel structure: a self-standing sculpture that will one day be installed permanently in a public space. (more…)
Working DPW and Gate at Burning Man has given many of us on staff our first taste of what it feels like to be an Enforcer. Of any type. In order to build and run a city out of thin air, sometimes a bunch of anti-authoritarians have to figure out how to tell other anti-authoritarians what to do, in the way we’d like to be told ourselves.
We workers are enforcers of necessary rules like: Don’t bring your guns or dogs here, don’t run towards the burning thing, and what if you’ve tried to stow away a hippie and now they’re suffocating underneath your bad plans.
Yes, it can be fun to role-play alpha tribe-protector out here, all fancy with a radio. Yes, the Stanford Prison Experiment was real, and we’re sure the lead Black Rock Rangers have had to pull some “excited fake cop” people off their Burning Man Ranger routes and take their radios away. That’s human nature. Working through it is what happens next.
For us regular blue-collar workers in Black Rock City, sometimes in this heat we get to feeling harsh, whether from a long work day, a few bad apples’ stupidity, or their mis-assumption of our stupidity. Worse yet, sometimes, as Enforcers, we harsh someone who doesn’t deserve it, because someone else tried to run and hitchhike through fast-moving intake lanes just a minute ago.
So the workers of Black Rock City have a heightened sense of empathy for Burning Man’s law enforcement. In Black Rock City, we have DPW who builds and stewards the town, we have Rangers who walk around and interact with the community, we have Emergency Services which provides medical and fire protection to anyone and everyone who needs it, and we have Gate and Perimeter as our internal “border security.” Together, these Burning Man departments handle all the regular, run-of-the-mill problems a society might have, such as power outages, dehydration, or domestic disputes.
Then the big guns are also here — the BLM and local law enforcement — whenever we need them.
We have always been glad they’re here. We workers have dealt with some scary shit, and while we talk a big tough game, DPW doesn’t know what to do with a transient one-armed man who’s wandered in from the desert during setup 2003, bleeding from his crazy-eyed head, talking about having just murdered a friend and his dog. Uhhhh, that’s beyond our scope of knowledge and ability.
We call the cops. We need cops. End of story. (more…)
Greetings MOOP maniacs and line sweepers extraordinaire! Here in Gerlach, the Playa Restoration All-Star team is being blown across the sweeping expanse of the Black Rock Desert by winds that have gusted as high as 50mph.
Luckily for Black Rock City, these rockstar Restoration experts are sticking to the task at hand, grabbing every last bit of MOOP, and still managing to look great doing it.