It may not look like much to the uninitiated, but this little group of vehicles represents the start of something much bigger. You are looking at the volunteer camp for the DPW (Department of Public Works), weekend of July 8 2005.
What does that mean? Well. The DPW is getting ready to build a city for you. Biiiig city. You like the big city? Black Rock City? I think you do.
Every spring, after (and sometimes during) the rains, a hardy group of volunteers and Burning Man employees come out to spend their weekends on the Black Rock Desert. They pass their mornings MOOPing the playa; afternoons at the work ranch; and evenings around a burn barrel, spinning yarns about last year’s burn. This is the DPW work weekend, and I’m taking a break from the Bay Area this year to lend a hand: me, the newest of the newbies. Out there with my camera and my inadequate shoes, I look and feel like a tourist. Still, they seem to like me okay so far –
I know how to build a fire, see.
Saturday starts easily enough: at 7:00, we roll out of our tents and stand dumbly contemplating the mountains, or the sky, or our dusty shoes. Iconoclast thoughtfully doles out coffee to anyone with a mug and a jones. Mayfield soon rolls up in a cloud of dust, and heads the morning meeting. News of the day: Today is POW-MIA Remembrance Day.
After a brief moment of contemplation, we all hop into our vehicles and make tracks for the work ranch. No sweat… at least not yet. The sun hasn’t even broken through the clouds, and we won’t see direct sunlight until mid-afternoon. July? Bah! Bring on the lightning.
Doctor Holderdown runs things with an iron fist, up on the ranch. Well, okay, a putty fist. He’s malleable but persuasive, see?
The Doc immediately ropes me – along with Fox and the Music Man – into MOOPing the insides of various playafied trucks. That’s right, the insides. They’re so full of petrified dust and cigarette butts, I might as well be at Center Camp after a rainstorm. Meanwhile and nearby, the real work continues: An immense shower/bathhouse is being constructed by several of your hardcore year-round DPWers, including the ever-entertaining Andy Luna and Headhunter.
(Later it will be discovered by most of the residents of Washoe County that Luna, while fetchingly tanned from the waist up, in fact possesses two of the whitest chicken legs the world has ever known. According to him, it’s so his girlfriend can find him at night)
…But that’s not until we get to Frog Pond, and we’re not there yet.
We’re still at the woodshop, where Marty is doing a little iron-fisting of his own. Today he is leading a tireless crew (Refried, Fox, and Iconoclast) in the construction of lampposts. Lampposts. Lampposts… Repeat ad infinitum…
…It’s one of those jobs that will continue long after you’ve given up; by lunchtime the crew is barely recognizable beneath their fuzzy sawdust coats…
And not a moment too soon, we’re saved by everyone’s favorite culinary wizard, Plex.
This man is a gourmet chef, no bones about it. Those are pork kebabs with onions, apples, squash, peppers, garlic, and lots of happy seasonings. Things are very quiet for a few minutes as the sweaty, hungry crew worships at the skewer…
but kebabs (like all things) eventually disappear, and those lampposts are calling. The woodshop crew return to their thankless jobs. The bathhouse gains a roof. I, for one, spend the afternoon gofering: moving Sign Shop gear for Mme. Degenerate; unloading a truck or two; picking up about a million nails; sweeping floors. It’s glamorous work, you know, but I do my best to make it look horrendously difficult and painful. It’s what I’m here for, after all.
Around 3:00, the sun finally breaks through the clouds, and what had been an uncomfortably muggy day suddenly turns into full-scale DESERTBOMB WEATHER. All around me, I can hear brains shriveling and brows being noisily mopped. In between safety breaks, water breaks, and shade breaks, we all manage to get as much work done as possible. But by 4:00, we’ve had it. It’s time for a quick escape to Frog Pond.
Before long, everyone is there, making merry and frolicking with the friendly Rangers (out here for their annual training) – when what to our wondering eyes should appear but another gourmet dinner! Delivered! To Frog Pond! Rolled stuffed flank steak, mushroom risotto, garlic bread and caesar salad! I ask you: can life get any better than this?
(Possibly, perhaps after dinner when Plex begins serving crepes. But that’s got to be another story, for another time. Don’t you think?)