August 22nd: Heavy Equipment Rules

I spent the morning with Support Services.  This is the heavy equipment team, the crew with the Cadillacs.  They are led by a guy named Big Stick and dispatched by a dude called Chaos.  One of them goes by Bruiser, and when asked how he got the name, just says, “Look at me.”  And don’t think for a minute that this is a men’s club.  One of the operators is a tall smart beauty named Snatch.  An orange-haired girl named Roo kicks ass on these machines.  She has an amazing presence and a tool-laden, harness-assisted swagger when she’s working.  These people are the rock stars of Black Rock City.

I rode along with Zach Off, rigging fixer and crane operator extraordinaire.  We zipped along on his low-rider two-person motor scooter, across the playa from project to project moving great big things at each site.  Crude Awakenings needed some giant beams picked up for their tower.  The Temple needed part of their structure lifted into place.  We checked in with Big Rig Jig about some monster lifts they will soon need.  And so on until we broke for lunch.

Heavy equipment makes big art possible, and they facilitate everything from drilling holes for shade structures to trenching for electrical wires to unloading containers.  This stuff is happening all over the playa right now, and these guys are dispatched as the need arises.  They’re building Center Camp and erecting huge domes.  They helped out when a crane tipped over last week and crushed a port-a-potty at one of the major art installations.  They’re always on the move.  Big Stick seems to actually be in multiple places at once.  Chaos receives so many calls that he has two radios attached to his face at all times.

This afternoon, the Man was moved from his horizontal resting place on the ground to his vertical perch atop the 40-foot tall pyre that serves as his base for 2007.  I got lucky.  Padawan offered to take me up in one of the booms to watch the transfer, which involved lifting the Man up by a tall crane and transferring him to a second crane.  He was then placed carefully on his stand and attached, temporarily headless.  It was awesome.

Big Stick engineered the Man base, and it took a lot of work, ahead of time and on site.  The logs are huge, and they’re stuck into playa dirt.  The Man is huge and needs to withstand high winds.  That project alone would usually be considered a feat, but Richard has a hand in nearly 80 projects out here, and so far this year his team has had more requests (600) for picks than they did for the duration of the event in ’06.  And it’s only Wednesday.

Sleep Dep’s radio calls are killing me.  He’s adopted an overly enthusiastic manner that includes a shouted and suspiciously agreeable OKAY! at the end of each transmission.  You’d have to see him to truly appreciate the irony I think, but know that he’s bringing a much appreciated sense of humor to the businesslike chatter on channel 4.

The commissary is where you see everyone now, since we’re all scattered across the playa working on different projects.  You clean up at the hand-washing station out front and then stand in line.  You chat while you wait and see what’s on the menu.  The commissary staff counts you and plays Sexy Back again and again.  Once inside, you choose a meat or veggie dish and pour a beverage.  Figure out where to sit.  Look around for familiar faces.

The gate is running now, full-time.  Have your ticket ready and make sure you’re on the Early Arrival list.  There’s suddenly a 90-foot dome up at 10:00 and the Esplanade.  The solinator for the solar array was delivered today, and the neon in the Man was lit just before midnight using power from the desert sun.  That was pretty cool.  I heard the first techno music off in the distance as I went to sleep tonight.  Momentum is building now at an exponential rate.  Black Rock City’s going live in four days.

-Wanda Sue Power

About the author: Marnee Benson

Marnee Benson

Marnee joined Black Rock Solar in 2009 as an environmental journalist and project manager who had recently organized a worldwide sailing expedition and global warming lecture series. While growing up in New Mexico, Marnee played tennis in the high-desert sun, ripped it up at local ski resorts, and rode bikes with her friends. She’s lived in Reno for more than ten years, after stops in Jackson Hole and southern California– where she played beach volleyball and studied math at San Diego State University. Marnee traded in her tennis racket and bikinis for carabiners and climbing shoes when she hit the Sierra Nevada, and she recently graduated from UNR with two master’s degrees in Environmental Science and Environmental Policy. She organized the Tour de Nez bike race for three years and sailed with Greenpeace International before turning her attention full-time to Black Rock Solar. In her spare time, Marnee counts her lucky stars for being able to work with the Holland Project and March Fourth Marching Band.