August 25th: Serendipity

Morning Meeting
Today was the last morning meeting until after the event for the Black Rock City Department of Public Works.  One of the things we talked about was the DPW parade next weekend.  There’s going to be a barbeque at the Depot for ’07 staff and an open house of sorts for alumni and family starting at 3:00.  The parade is set to start around 3:30.

At the meeting, Coyote stressed the importance of civility and respect during the parade, a message he’s emphasized consistently ever since the Golden Spike ceremony three weeks ago.  He said we’re DPW and we built this city, and we need to show people our pride and unity, not that we’re a bunch of assholes.  He said we have our own goddamned beer ($1000 worth in fact thanks to Face, of a favorite brand whose initials rhyme with pee bee are), and we don’t need to ransack camps, bully participants, engage in altercations, or respond aggressively to provocation in order to enjoy ourselves.  If people want to be generous and thank us for our hard work, great.  If they act like jerks, rise above.

I didn’t know Coyote before last month, but I know he was brutally attacked earlier this year in San Francisco.  He’s doing much better now, but he suffered through a lot of pain.  He’s still having trouble with his wrist and couldn’t pound t-stakes for the first time in ten years of putting up fence.  The assault seems to have affected his worldview as well- you can see it when he talks to the DPW.  He’s acutely in tune to the strength that comes with responsibility and the well-deserved pride that comes from hard work, as well as the delicate nature of good fortune and the blink-of-an-eye nature of life in general.  His influence on this particular group is obvious- he wants them to recognize and embrace the same things.  He wants them to grow.

Coyote wrote this message earlier this summer, a few months after he was attacked:  I got tears in my eyes when I read it.  It was the day I realized for the first time that Coyote helped shape my life before we even knew each other.  You see, one night this spring I went out with my friends Joe and Ed in Reno.  Joe mentioned that he wanted to stop by the Zephyr for a Burning Man fundraiser, and we said sure.  There was a band playing and maybe 20 or 30 people there, and we were having a good time.  Joe said he wanted to introduce me to one of his friends, and I said ok even though I didn’t care much because I was really into Ed and just wanted to hang out with him and Joe.

So Joe dragged me outside and dragged this one gal away from her group of friends and introduced us.  Marnee, this Marian.  Marian, this is Marnee.  Well hi!  We instantly hit it off and the rest of the world melted away while we gabbed and got to know each other.  We had a ton in common and promised to keep in touch, and she even wanted me to go work for Burning Man.  When Ed and Joe came out to get me, I left the bar against my will because I was having so much fun with Marian and I was really excited to talk about writing and the environment and the Green Man theme.  And that’s how I got to DPW.  That’s how I came to be in this great place and to work with these cool people.

The fundraiser at the Zephyr was a benefit for Coyote.

Back to the morning meeting and the stuff Coyote was talking about.  With the idea that previous DPW parades have been pretty rowdy (to put it mildly), and they don’t want the same type of things to happen this year, DA is organizing a group within DPW called the Outriders.  They will walk alongside the parade wearing red DPW t-shirts and keep spectators out of the way and potentially keep DPW in line.  They’re the DPW Secret Service.  DA continues to impress me.  Is there anything he can’t do?

At this point Coyote mentioned that we need sober drivers for all the vehicles during the parade, especially since we’re expecting a couple hundred people to participate.  Two hands went up.  Everybody else just looked around.  I love DPW.

Last but not least, Logan handed out the 2007 DPW Manual.  He’s been waiting for it for weeks I think, as he pointed out with not a little sarcasm: “This will tell you what to expect when you get here.  It will give you information you need to get ready for the playa.  It tells you safety info.  There are directions to Gerlach in here and rules for the trailer park.”  It makes me laugh because I can hear his voice so clearly even now…

Theme Camp Placement
I spent the day with Shadow, seven-year member of the Theme Camp Placement Team.  Never heard of them?  Well neither had I.  Turns out they are all powerful.  The placement team matches registered villages and theme camps (all 660 of them this year) with their assigned spots in the city.  They decide who lives where and how much space they get, including which blocks near the Esplanade get reserved for regular participants who arrive when the gate opens at midnight on Sunday.  They are the first point of contact on the playa for big camps like Opulent Temple and smaller ones like Math Camp (a favorite among the fractal-loving set).

I met Shadow after breakfast at the 3:00 Plaza, epicenter of her world for five days of theme camp placement, during which she will sleep rarely and greet often.  Her territory stretches from the Esplanade to the outer blocks, between 3:00 and 5:00, and she is always on call.  She zips around in a golf cart responding to non-stop notifications from the gate and HQ, all the while keeping an eye on squatters and survey flags.  She’s got 105 camps to situate, and they’ve been coming in around the clock since Thursday.

We spend the day meeting representatives from theme camps at designated locations in the city, making sure they get their coordinates dialed in.  New camps need to be shown where the corners of their lot are- Shadow gets out and walks the edges with them to make sure they understand the system.  Veteran camps are easy to place because they know the drill, and they all know Shadow.  For example, one camp remembers that she likes pear flavored vodka.  They present her with a bow-tied bottle as they take turns giving her a hug.  I’m beginning to appreciate this whole “placement” gig.  I’m nodding my head in dawning insight as I recall long hot days of t-stakes and fences…

Shadow has been coming to Burning Man since 1992, when the Man was on the ground and everyone camped within earshot.  She started working the next year, and she still loves it.  When today’s dust storm took a turn for the worse, we took a short break and headed over to her Airstream.  Awesome!  We ate brownie bites and drank cold sparkling water from real glasses.  She invited me to their Airstream open house next week, where their whole block gets together for a trailer-to-trailer party in the afternoon.  These people really know how to roll!

Turns out Shadow is from Reno.  I’ve never met her before, and we’ve lived in the same town for years.  Ditto for seven or eight other people she introduced me to during the day, including Machine and a guy with a duo-equipped flame throwing non-enclosed fossil fuel powered vehicle.  As if that weren’t enough, I was riding back to my trailer along Freshwater at the end of the day when I ran into Dave and Delores Aiazzi.  Hey you guys!  They had just pulled in to their camp when I rolled up on my bike, and they gave me an icy cold beer.  Thanks!  We chatted for a while and they caught me up on Reno happenings while I told them about my adventures.  I was so stoked to run into them and hoped I’d see them again.

Crude Oil
Shadow and I took a detour out to Crude Awakening to watch the erection of the oil derrick this morning.  It was spectacular.  It took three cranes to hoist it, and everybody was pretty much mesmerized.  Even Super Dave was on hand to watch (What could possibly go wrong?).  The whole crew celebrated when it was over, and now, when the dust settles enough to see that far, everyone in Black Rock City will look out toward 1:00 and go: “What the f**k is that?”

A note on Crude Awakening:  the oil derrick is worshiped by eight huge human figures sculpted out of metal, all with nighttime fire effects.  According to Dan Das Mann, each figure emulates the prayer posture of some religious tradition.  The entire project is a massive collaboration among 180 people including artists, carpenters, heavy equipment operators, welders, and electricians.  They are building stairs to the top so people can climb up to the platform.  It’s a big deal.

I moved my tent trailer this morning, from its former spot at BWB to its permanent locale at 5:10 and Freshwater.  I didn’t even close it up, I just hitched it to the Suby and drove on over to the little yellow flag that says “Ambush.”  There’s hardly anybody on my block, so I had to visualize my whole camp and figure out which way to put the trailer.  I’ll miss the old spot and being so close to Carp, but I’m looking forward to my friends arriving soon.

While I was out with Shadow, I wandered into Arctica at the 3:00 Plaza.  This is the first year that there’s more than one location for ice sales- usually it’s just near Center Camp- but this year they’ll be at 3:00 and 9:00 too.  The Fistica team had just finished construction of the station- their last one- and they were celebrating.  The whole crew was jubilant, and I was lucky enough to snap their photo.  Here they are:

Tonight I went over to Crane Camp to look for my friend Teresa, but she hadn’t arrived yet, so I hopped in a Cadillac with Miss Dixie, Game Show, Camera Girl, Bruiser, Ghost Dancer, and Thumper.  We headed to the gate for some good old fashioned fun.  We met up with some other folks and caught up on, what… current events?  We were sort of in our own little bubble despite the tide of early arrivers streaming through the entrance.  Doyle came to pick me up, much to my delight, and we headed back to town in his art car.

– Marnee

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.

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