Burners Without Borders – Report From the Field

Biloxi, Mississippi

Hey there, time for an update from the Katrina zone:

modeled here by Mishka--you can see what she calls our "Tonka Trucks" in the background.
BWB shirt modeled here by Mishka–you can see what she calls our “Tonka Trucks” in the background.

First, about the headline. After looking around for months at all the other volunteer groups wearing snazzy matching t-shirts, we decided we should probably get some of our own. You know, that whole esprit de corps and souvenir thing. Now, thanks to some rock star volunteer graphic design work by Jon Lowe, we’ve got some–and a name for our little project:

Burners Without Borders.

(See a bunch more photos on Mishka’s flickr site if you’ve been here and volunteered, please write and we’ll send you a t-shirt.)

The BWB name kind of perfectly sums up what we feel like we’re about, namely taking the ten principles of Burning Man (your refresher course; they are: Radical Inclusion – Decommodification – Gifting – Radical Self Reliance – Radical Self Expression – Communal Effort – Civic Responsibility – Leaving No Trace – Participation – Immediacy ) off the playa and into the real world. Black Rock, Biloxi–where we are, it turns out, doesn’t matter nearly as much to what we have in common as does the way we do our collective thing.

Her name is Katrina, and she ain't for hire.
Her name is Katrina, and she ain’t for hire.

In practice this past week, that’s taken on a few parallel tracks. Lucky answered a call to DPW for a finish carpenter ( time from message posting to first reply: 13 minutes ) and came over from Texas, to help Matt, Cab, Teresa and Michael, among others, do some finish work in the Buddhist temple. It’s going to be _so_ much better than before when they’re done. Meanwhile, Monte’s and Eli have been running supplies around in his truck, bought to be turned into an art car but now doing duty as a supply hauler. Her name is Katrina, and she ain’t for hire.

The rest of us keep busy removing debris. Consider: 40% or so of the houses in east Biloxi ( and the whole gulf coast, for that matter ) are destroyed, or need to be. All that rubble has to be broken up, and pushed to the curb to be hauled away. Some of it’s by machines, a lot of it by hand-not too bad, unless you rip into something that splatters “I can’t believe it’s not dead body” juice all over you–we go through a lot of hand sanitizer.

Here's Richard "Big Styk" Scott talking shop with Chaos, before peeling a house like a banana.
Here’s Richard “Big Styk” Scott talking shop with Chaos, before peeling a house like a banana.

Sharp readers will note that yes, all our vehicles say “Black Rock City Department of Public Works” on them. There is something very right about that, considering the amount of MOOP we’re moving on a daily basis. People are often curious about our group, asking where we’re all from, and how we know each other, to which we sometimes say “well, we get together once a year to build Nevada’s 5th largest city. In a weekend. Then we live in in for a week, and take it all down. So we’re kinda into cleaning up big messes.” They nod and say “oh, right…” and then don’t really know where to go from there.

A quick aside about Richard: he’s been here without a break, without a day off, for MONTHS. Always level headed, always safety conscious, he’s been the anchor for this whole operation, and can run an excavator like it’s a part of his arm. And that’s AFTER going non-stop on the playa running his name sake cranes. He deserves mad props–feel free to deliver yours here: rdscott@inreach.net.

There was a recent article in the New York Times that featured our neighbors across the street. The sign showed in the story is one Chaos and Mishka made. Today Reba, Austin, Michelle and I spent five hours clearing junk out of her yard, which we’re turning into a massive neighborhood holiday display (more on that later ).

Here's a tiny panoramic of our camp--dome, bus, tents etc all ours
Here’s a tiny panoramic of our camp–dome, bus, tents etc all ours

At night it gets dark early, and there’s not a lot to do. So, we invent games ( last night’s: Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it’s on fire.) or hang out in our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome.

Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it's on fire.
Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it’s on fire.

We’re getting in the Christmas spirit–Austin ground scored a box of black socks, and with some glitter pens has made us all stockings, to hang from a fireplace she’s building around our burn barrel.

Our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome
Our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome

Across the street, there’s an abandoned lot, a sort of muddy bog. With the owners permission, we’re going to transform it into a sort of Christmas/Holiday theme park. The idea: give families something to come see and do together, and brighten an otherwise blighted neighborhood. We’ll be setting up all kinds of lights and decorations ( using a lot of what we’ve found in wrecked/ruined houses ), and if we can get a projector will have free outdoor screenings of holiday movies, on hay bale benches. Of course we’ll have a bonfire–there’s no end of fuel, and ever since the very beginning the police have allowed us to have what is, as best we can tell, the only open fire in Biloxi. There are plans for hay rides on a trailer towed behind our tractor, hot chocolate and candy for the kids, and santas. Lots and lots of Santas. Like, each kid gets there own. Santa may then go to Wal-Mart to engage shoppers in a Socratic dialogue about consumerism–we’ll see.

The weather has been mixed–shirt sleeves today, pissing down freezing rain a few days back. In the days ahead, a remote team will be setting up a semi-permanent shelter and distribution center in Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, where we can give out much needed tents, blankets, food and cleaning tools. Yes, people really do still need that stuff–just not everyone, which is why we’re now going to them instead of the other way around. Those cajuns down there are tough–some are driving 5 hours a day just to fish for a few hours, then head back home. They don’t want a hand out, just a hand up, so we’re going to do what we can.

All of these volunteers are amazing–giving so much of their time (several have quit jobs and pulled up stakes to be here full time ) and energy–it’s very affirming, very heartwarming, to know there are so many great people willing to just step up and say “what needs doing?”

A lot of people have been writing and calling, asking how long we’ll be staying, and how they can help. Although most other groups are pulling out by late January at the outside, we’re planning on staying until March, or until we’re not needed ( which I can assure you won’t be before March ).

So, how can you help?

Option one: C’mon down and volunteer. Come for a day, come for the winter, we’ve got room, you’ll get a lot out of it, a great workout, and a chance to gorge on some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll ever eat ( the ladies at the temple here really hook us up ). You can also call: 801-712-5371 Tom or 530-401-4007 Richard.

Option two: paypal us $25 and get one of our snappy tshirts sent to you. Yea, we know we know, it’s comodification, but proceeds ( about $17 from each shirt ) will be used to keep us fed, watered. and our vehicles filled. Plus they’re wicked cool. Paypal to price_tom@hotmail.com, or snail it to Burning Man crew, Buddhist Temple, 179 Oak Street, Biloxi, MS 39532. You should also feel free to mail surprises–Santa loves surprises.

It’s 12:30, about 25 degrees, and so humid that freezing air is dropping off the inside of the dome, and typing in my gloves is getting a little old. So that’s it for tonight, thanks for reading, and thanks for all your support and encouragement.

Happy holidays,
-The Temple to Temple crew

About the author: Tom Price

Tom Price is the former Executive Director of Black Rock Solar. Prior to that he was the Environmental Manager for Burning Man during the Green Man theme, and was in the Gulf Coast for six months during the genesis of Burners Without Borders. He's been attending Burning Man since 1997, and he's proud to say that his decade plus streak of breaking down from sun stroke on the playa on day three remains intact.