Days of Our Dusty Lives 2 – Deep People Working

[Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1: “Back to the Dustbowl” Part 3: “Keep on Moopin’, Don’t Stop”]

Sept. 15, 2002

Out here, conversations instantly go deep and stay deep. I guess there are endless places on this planet where one can choose to connect with one’s workmates, especially when the labor is manual and frees up the mind and mouth to run wild. But your average roach-poison plant in Rooster Poot, Arkansas probably isn’t the global hot spot for interesting and witty repartee.

Not to dis’ on the average Joe. Of course we are all part of the same organism, and as the amazing Cowboy Carl pointed out to me in a 10 minute post-lunch conversation the other day that was so packed full of subjects that it might as well have lasted hours, rural and small-town people tend to find a different kind of open-eyed wisdom and peace that even the most seasoned urban sage could never attain. But the DPW cleanup scene is a pretty unique combination of the two – bursting at the seams with intensely creative and talented and intense people who have made renegade marks on society and then chosen to come out and sweat in a labor camp. Each time you load trucks with and pick up MOOP with and pound T-stakes with a fellow DPW worker, it’s another aopportunity to interact with someone incredible and learn something that you’ve always wanted to know or think of something in a way you’ve never thought of it before. It’s kind of a trip, and it’s definitely overwhelming.

Friday was a huge day for the DPW – the BLM said all the big stuff had to be off the playa and not only did we offload everything and put it in the rows in a more organized manner than has ever been done before, we finished early. Everyone was in peak performance mode, getting pre-breakfast loads in, moving fast, driving round and round the playa and back and forth to the ranch, MOOPing and throwing pallets and carpets off trucks with even more fervor than usual. The rows went from scraggled patches of material to teeming hunks of useful junk in no-time.

I’m partial to the rows. They’re a magical sight, just as full of things people have intricately and artistically crafted as they are of mass-manufactured functional stuff. Strolling through them is like taking a walk through a fantastical junkyard cartoon. The automotive section, especially – where else can you see a row of wheeled vehicles that include sharks, boats, tanks, dragons, and spaceships? Maybe I’m partial because I grew up visiting dumps and junkyards all day with my beloved Grandaddy, but dammit, it’s just all too beautiful. It gives me an inexorable sense of peace to stand on the bed of a dusty truck as we move through the rows unloading. I check out how much stuff there is that other people have discarded or sold for cheap that will be used to make the bones and flourishes of the city I love the most – a city of people who strive towards enlightenment while making the least physical impact on the planet, people who would rather make their own fun than sit back and mindlessly consume it.

An incomplete list of what’s in the rows:
Plywood and lumber
Gas tanks
Traffic cones
Burn barrels
Scrap metal
Tin cans
Road cloth (shade)

In a way, the people here are like the rows – handy things that materialistic people might first dismiss because of their roughed-up appearance… machinery that’s either banged-up or intricately decorated or deeply complicated or designed to fucking blow people’s minds or all of the above. Here in the DPW cleanup crew, we’ve got welders who make beautiful art and clothes, a noted salsa musician, a grip of gun enthusiasts, myriad photographers, girl mechanics, sugar beet farm workers, circus-performing punks and hippies, a former USMC sniper turned underwater construction worker and farmer, a mayoral candidate, bike messengers, a nuclear plant worker, an archaeologist, journalists, a network specialist, hardcore bikers, a jeweler, a top-10 pop songwriter, repo men, a pipeline inspector, a robotics engineer, social workers, real live cowboys, and too many others to mention – all with one common goal, each with special knowledge that will end up making the whole operation run more smoothly. And you know, dust is the great leveller – nobody can have status when everyone’s filthy. (Unless you’ve got a flamethrower on your truck. That’s when you’re a rock star.)

It’s 10pm on Sunday night, and the commissary is unusually quiet. People have gone to bed early in preparation for the next phase, for tomorrow, we begin micro-trashing the playa. Time to stoop and MOOP. (MOOP: 1.n. Matter Out Of Place. 2.v. To pick up MOOP.) Demilitia, head of the welding shop, has been working closely with people in town this weekend to manufacture the best dunebusting machines – chain link fence contraptions, bulldozers, homemade Bobcat attachments, and a flatbed truck weighted with hay bales that will drag a railroad tie through the biggest ones, scoring them so that they will blow away and return the playa to a blank, flat nothing. But the skies at sunset were an unbelievable shade of hot pink, and heavy with rain. We’re all praying tonight that it blows over, because mud dunes will not bust as easily, and wetness makes the MOOPing process ten times more painstaking.

So it’s time to turn in. On the walk to my camp, I’m sure I’ll have and overhear at least a couple conversations that will bust a brain dune or two. It’s a pity we have to sleep at all – there’s so much talking and working to do.

Stay tuned for more to come…

About the author: Summer Burkes

Summer Burkes

Summer Burkes has been rousting about at Burning Man since 1998. She first met her dusty DPW / Cyclecide / Bike Club fam-dambly on the back of The Bucket. A Cacophony Society enthusiast, Summer loves explosions and cake.