Stuck in the Muck

Fog? In Gerlach?
Fog? In Gerlach?

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.

People gathered around Playground's laptop to see what kind of weather was on the way
People gathered around Playground’s laptop to see what kind of weather was on the way

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.

The Man's mighty big legs drew onlookers in Gerlach
The Man’s mighty big legs drew onlookers in Gerlach

“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.

The joke going around is that Joe the Builder has giant nuts. And that’s true – each of them weighs about five pounds and cost about $50. And the bolts those nuts will go on are also giant. But that’s what will be needed to keep the Man standing.

Speaking of standing, it was standing-room-only at Bruno’s this morning. Most of the work crews are still bunking in Gerlach, but as soon as the Commissary tent goes up, everyone will move to the playa. But the rain pushed everything back, so everyone is still jam-packed in town. It was so crowded they set up picnic tables outside so you could have a place to sit down while you ate.

“Are they going to live-stream the meeting out here?” Effin Andy asked.

But it’s still the weather on everyone’s mind. No one really knows how hard we’ll get hit, if we get hit at all. Folks were crowded around Playground’s laptop, looking at the radar weather maps she had called up.

“I don’t think we’re gonna get it,” she said. “I think it’s going to curve around us. … But I only took one meteorology class in college.”

“I think we should work till we can’t,” Coyote said.

Things are jam-packed in the back room at Bruno's
Things are jam-packed in the back room at Bruno’s

So that was the order for the day – get out there and get done what you can get done, and be ready to hightail it back to town if necessary.

Morning notes: Haul Road, the main in-and-out route to get to Black Rock City now, is in as bad shape as we’ve ever seen it. There is talcum-like powder half a foot deep in places, and when you hit it in your vehicle, things go a little sideways. The plan was to water and roll it today. … Crews were told to keep radio communication short and to the point, because the chatter is quite thick. And they were also told to keep things polite and professional, too. “There’s a lot of people out there listening,” Logan said. … On the social calendar is the dress-up Manhattan party at the Saloon tonight, plus karaoke at Joe’s Club next door. One person who really knows how to plan ahead has brought bourbon-soaked peaches for the Manhattan party. We’ll do our best to get a first-hand report.

More pics:

It was a big day for Boris yesterday; he earned stickers for his truck
It was a big day for Boris yesterday; he earned stickers for his truck
Additional seating outside
Additional seating outside
The areas of green showed where it was raining
The areas of green showed where it was raining
It's beautiful to see fog over the Granites, but it's weird
It’s beautiful to see fog over the Granites, but it’s weird
The Man Base crew talked about ways of getting off the playa quickly
The Man Base crew talked about ways of getting off the playa quickly
Lifting the man's legs off the truck
Lifting the man’s legs off the truck
Eva is keeping a sketchbook of progress at Man Base
Eva is keeping a sketchbook of progress at Man Base
The Man's mighty big legs drew onlookers in Gerlach
The Man’s mighty big legs drew onlookers in Gerlach

About the author: John Curley

John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person In a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients, and I'm especially fond of shooting weddings. I'm also the editor at large of the Tasting Panel magazine, which is devoted to the beverage industry. I've also taught a bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on a (house)boat in Alameda, California.

12 Comments on “Stuck in the Muck

  • Joney says:

    >A giant Man standing ten stories tall

    Finally. That’s just what we need. I hope this year the fireworks don’t suck.

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  • I’ve never seen a time when the playa took more than a few hours to dry out… except that one time in 1998. 3 days after event, it rained hard for a day & a half. All the cleanup crew vehicles were immobile for nearly 4 days, but it was really not a problem, because we had enough food, water, beer and whisky to last a month. It was one of our most memorable Burning Man experiences.

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  • Rainmaker says:

    Thank you all!

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  • marrvelous says:

    Those pre-event windstorms last year were biblical! 1998 rocked!

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  • Gong Diva says:

    I love YOU, DPW and other workers who are busy building our fantastic Black Rock City!!! I wish I were there to kiss your feet

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  • Bestowed says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! So much gratitude for all of your efforts. I truly appreciate the great work you do building our fair city. I hope you all enjoy your booze soaked peaches. See you on the playa!

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  • PlayaPyro says:

    >>A giant Man standing ten stories tall

    >Finally. That’s just what we need. I hope this year the fireworks don’t suck.

    Should be better than previous years but still nothing past “consumer grade” 1.4g. You can thank BLM and the BORG for this — don’t blame the pyros. We can only use what the permit allows!

    (Hopefully, soon, BLM will allow the use of 1.3 professional grade fireworks. Gotta just keep pushing…)

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  • #7 says:

    There is no weather that can beat DPW! Keep up the Great work everyone!
    And Thank You All So Much!!!

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  • Tangles says:

    THANK YOU DPW! THANK YOU John Curley! Your hard work & fabulous reporting are so appreciated. You guys rock!! Dusty hugs.

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  • Admarz says:

    Thank you all SO much for all of your hard work!!! Can’t wait to see the beautiful city and giant man you’re building for us this year :)

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  • Mike says:

    @7
    >There is no weather that can beat DPW!

    And there’s really only a few soap products that can be used also. Sometimes you just have to let the dead skin die off.

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  • Philippe Gerald says:

    Can’t even think about how this yr will be very messy! Have fun !

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