August 19th: Bring Your Goggles

The Way It Is
Today was so dusty and windy that it took me about 20 minutes to get from the Depot at 5:30 and the outskirts to 3:30 and the Esplanade.  I had to stop completely and wait about ten times because I couldn’t see at all.  Most people turned on their headlights so they could be seen by oncoming vehicles.  One radio call in particular went out late in the morning that said: “All com, all com, this is Make Believe.  I’m in a white truck.  If you see me sitting here, could you please come back with my twenty?”  That’s how dusty it was.

The moral of this story?  It’s gonna be a dusty year.  Bring your goggles and dust masks.  Lube up your zippers.  Make sure you’re well-lit at night.  Check your air filter and keep your windows rolled up.  I haven’t seen the playa like this since 2001, and this might be worse.  DRIVE SLOWLY!

Because of the storm, most work was cancelled for the day.  The DPW got a sort of snow day in the desert.  I headed into Gerlach to use the internet at the office, but it was down, so I took my laundry over to Bruno’s, behind the gas station.  (Yes, everything in Gerlach is called “Bruno’s.”)  Some of the Shade girls were there, and Melody mentioned happily that it was her first day off in two weeks.  Everyone in the DPW has a really good attitude about hard work, and I can’t recall a single genuine complaint about it since I got here almost three weeks ago.  If anything, people are competitive about how much work they can handle and how extreme the conditions they can endure.  It’s part of the glue that binds the department and makes it edgy.

Dusty commissaryAt 2:00 we all gathered in the SUPER dusty commissary for the “Way It Is” meeting.  (You couldn’t see more than a few feet outside, and it wasn’t that much better in the huge tent.)  The meeting is the time for Burning Man staff and managers to get final information about the way things work at the event.  In addition to a 70-page document, we were personally debriefed by different department heads.  Some of the info we were given: when the gate is officially open and when we have to stop using the different entrances; placement policies; when does clean-up begin; how to contact emergency services; commissary privileges; radio communications; protocol for driving fleet vehicles; and community projects like the solar array.  Camera Girl revived our attention with an unusual presentation that was much appreciated by the ragged crowd.

Sunset Cruise on the Playa
Dusty trailerI went by the Ghetto and arranged with Payphone to meet later for a cocktail, then returned to my place to finish up some work.  Oh my god my trailer was out of control dusty.  Every surface was covered in playa dust, and thick too.  I forgot to close the door all the way when I left this morning.  F**k.  Rookie mistake!  I cleaned up instead of writing and was glad I had at least put the lids on my clothing bin.

SpoonRight around 6:00 I heard Payphone’s voice outside my trailer and there he was with Spoon, on Spoon’s lovely art car.  Spoon’s art carDid I want to go for a ride?  Of course!  I grabbed a bottle of wine and three glasses and hopped in.  We had such a nice time!  We immediately set out for deep playa and 1:00 to see the progress on Crude Awakening.  The car only goes about zero miles per hour, so it took us forever and that was perfect.  Great conversation and gorgeous dust-free weather.

Sunset over Center CampWe pulled up to Crude Awakening and jumped down to say hi to the crew.  Chaos was there & told me I might want to say hi to these other people.  Monte and Teresa!  That’s so cool to just run into them out here.  They’re on playa for a few hours before they head back to Reno.  We exchanged greetings and caught up, and they gave me a badly needed bandana. Thanks guys!  After a while Payphone and I joined Spoon in the art car for the sunset ride back to camp.  Beautiful.

Listen, if anyone from DPW reads this, I am going to catch a ton a shit for being so un-cool, but now that there are so many Burning Man employees and volunteers on the playa, the commissary staff is asking everyone in line to identify their department as they enter at mealtime.  (As opposed to just sitting in their chairs and asking Jejus important questions about our destiny).  And so today, when they asked what department I was with, I got to say: “DPW.”  I was stoked.

-Wanda Power

About the author: Marnee Benson

Marnee Benson

Marnee is Burning Man Project’s Associate Director of Government Affairs. Her work focuses on permitting and relationships with the Nevada Legislature, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Pershing County, and multiple other Nevada agencies. She helps Burning Man navigate Nevada politics and federal issues affecting the Burning Man event. Marnee’s first trip to Black Rock City was 2001, and in 2007 she worked with the Department of Public Works and the Communications team, writing and photographing content for the Burning Blog “Building Black Rock City”. From 2009 to 2013, she served as the Deputy Director at Black Rock Solar. She loves the way Burning Man expands her world and flips ideas upside down.