Opening night … and day

Kate Raudenbush on the swing in her "Altered States
Kate Raudenbush on the swing in her "Altered States

And we’re off …

The gates opened last night and the cars and trailers and trucks and mutant vehicles came streaming through, to the whoops and hollers of those just arriving, and from the people welcoming them Home. All the weeks and months of work had coalesced into this moment of relief and joy and anticipation and excitement. The guests have arrived, and dinner is served.

It was a beautiful night in Black Rock City. There had been steady winds of about 25 mph all day long, and the forecast was for increasing gusts, but when night fell the air was calm. It made for a festive night.

“I love this place!” one person shouted, for no apparent reason. “I love this place more!” answered another.

The Man got checked out by one of the Man crew just before the first people climbed aboard.
The Man got checked out by one of the Man crew just before the first people climbed aboard.

Out at the Man, cars and bikes and blinking people lined up around the perimeter of the base, waiting for the clock to strike 12 so they could climb the winding staircase to the top. BMIR was broadcasting the countdown, like some mutant version of Dick Clark’s New Years Eve show on TV. When the witching hour arrived, and the radio was playing “Consider yourself, at home! Consider yourself, part of the family!,” up and up the people went to get a view of the Man and a view of the city. Poor Betty June was stationed at one side of the staircase, patiently telling people that the “up” stairwell was on the other side, and then helping people as they made their way down. She’d be on duty till 4 in the morning, and there will be someone stationed there round the clock, all week long, letting people know that one way’s up, and the other way’s down.

Over at Kate’s Raudenbush’s “Altered States,” the work lights blinked off, and then the birdcage glowed red in the darkness. It is just so gorgeous. There was a sweet moment for Kate and the crew; appetizers were spread out inside the dome, champagne corks were popped, and heartfelt words were spoken. “This is for all of you,” Kate said, tearing up. “It just couldn’t have happened without you.”

Then she had everyone, on the count of three, pull out a branch from beneath the table, each person coming away with a little piece of the whole. It was very touching, and they all seemed like family standing there celebrating together.

And the piece really does look like a glowing Capitol building from a distance (it’s designed after the U.S. Senate building). But when you pull up closer you see the Native American-inspired scrollwork on the dome. And then you see the swings in the center and then you are struck by the troubled relationship between Native Americans, the U.S. government, and what it’s like to live where someone says you must.

The poppy field looks completely different at night, but no less striking.
The poppy field looks completely different at night, but no less striking.

The open areas beyond the Esplanade have filled in nicely with beautiful and provocative art. The giant red poppy field was glowing in the night, a completely different experience than coming upon it during the day, when the red petals leap out against the ridiculously blue sky. A nearby piece featured centerpieces of translucent multicolored dildos, again, all glowy in the night. More than a couple of people broke out laughing when the came up close enough to see what they were looking at. “Don’t forget to touch them,” one girl squealed.

The morning broke beautifully (after a very obnoxious wake-up call from some person or persons at Center Camp, who thought it would be really cool, I guess, to really really BLAST some early ’80s crappy disco music at, oh, around 5:30 in the morning. All I can say to that is, dude, you are affecting my experience.) (And while we’re on the subject, have you ever noticed how often there is an inverse correlation between the loudness of the music and the number of people at the party? Like, the loudest places are often empty. Not true at all at the kicking dance clubs out on the edge of town; that’s where it really happens. It’s loud, it grooves, DJs get flown in for the gigs, it’s all incredibly smoking. But Center Camp at dawn? Not so much.) (PS: end of rant.)

So the people have been streaming in all day, and now the wind is just blowing and blowing and blowing. The dust blots out everything. It’s not sunny out anymore, it’s just varying shades of brown. I haven’t been able to see the Man all day. Sometimes, you can’t see across the street. Sometimes, you just can’t see a thing; you just stand there and wait for it to pass.

I wonder what it’s like on the perimeter. My guess is the sun is shining out there, and all this looks like a bad dream.

New York Burners checked in with Audry to see about picking up their stuff
New York Burners checked in with Audry to see about picking up their stuff

New York camp was spreading out all over the city. For days and days now, Big Apple Burners have been picking up their gear from three huge containers that were shipped across country. More than 300 people rented space in the containers, so that they didn’t have to haul all that stuff themselves. It’s an amazing operation. Everything was packed up in Jersey City weeks ago, put on rails, and three transfers later the containers were put on trucks in Reno for the trip to Black Rock. Of course, the truck drivers got lost, missed the entrance to the Burn, wound up 30 miles down the road, tried to turn around and got stuck in the sand … but all that’s another story.

New York is one of the huge regional Burner operations, and they’re a big part of the scene here. Down the road from where New York was unloading, two huge containers from Boston and another from Philadelphia were distributing gear, the scene something like a pickup dock at Best Buy, only gone all funky and nuts.

Tigger gets to pick where she spends the night
Tigger gets to pick where she spends the night

Tigger, one of the New York crew, has two camps at the Burn, “one on each side of the Esplanade, so I can sleep where I wind up at night.” Sounds perfectly logical. She calls one place her “pied a tent.” Sweet.

So welcome home, all you who have arrived today. Just a few things to remember:

1) You’re going to lose stuff. Just accept it. Have faith that the missing merchandise will reappear when you make your way home. I haven’t seen my iPhone in 10 days; I’m trusting that somewhere, in all my stuff, it’s waiting for me to find it.
2) This dust will cease. It will. A cold front is coming through, and when it arrives, the wind will die down, it’ll be cooler at night and then only in the 90s during the day, instead of the 100s that it’s been. 3) Understand that by the time you have finally arrived at the most efficient way of organizing your gear, when you know exactly where to find the things you need when you need them, it’s going to be time to go home.
4) WD-40 works really well on messed-up zippers. In a pinch, Chapstick or soap might help, too; and
5) It sounds gross, but it’s true: Piss clear. It’s the way to know you’re hydrating properly.

Center Camp is about 20 yards beyond this clown. But you couldn't see that far on Monday.
Center Camp is about 20 yards beyond this clown. But you couldn't see that far on Monday.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

11 Comments on “Opening night … and day

  • I’m fascinated by this year’s theme and so wish I was going this year – it looks – to coin a phrase – like a true representations of “works of staggering genius”

    I was thinking about this year’s theme – is the American dream really dead? What does it mean to you? Has America lost it’s Mojo? What do you think?


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  • Kat says:

    Thanks for the images. Glad the net is working so you can still be heard out here in default world. The first image you have here is almost like a Poser render or something but I love the work on the structure.

    Maybe Im masochistic but I cant help but look at this blog each update, despite how much I wanted to go home this year.

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  • Erin says:

    Thanks so much for the posts! Though I cannot be there in person this year my spirit is at Burning Man 24 7! Reading about what’s going on and seeing the pics soothes my yearning heart. I look forward to following the week!!

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  • Kelly Fay says:

    The ache is bubbling in my throat – the desire to be there, to suffer the dust and the heat, to hear “welcome home.” The default world would cease to exist without me this year apparently, and so I sit here, wearing my burn goggles, trying to live vicariously through this blessed/damn blog. Thank you John, and damn you too. Next year the world can fall apart if it must. I’ll be in the desert and won’t care anyway!

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  • jgtree420 says:

    Thanks so much for keeping this incredible blog! I wish I was there and your photos are fantastic!

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  • Carlito says:

    Burners In Exile! I’m right with you Kelly Fay … feelin’ the tug at the heart & the bubble in the throat. Perhaps suffering a dose of HOME-sickness, but still keeping the flag burning from afar. As I type this and as you read, a wonderfully crazy and magic love-fest of human consciousness is firing on all cylinders, radiating positive vibes of hope into the planet … close your eyes, concentrate, and tap into the FUN. I’ll be there next year too! … Carlito in Bali

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  • Yim says:

    “And when he gets to the greeter station,
    to the naked guy he will tell,
    ‘one more burner reporting sir,
    I’ve served my time in hell.'”

    I haven’t been to Burning Man since ’04, and due to the birth of my child I had to even miss my beloved Flipside this year. I think reading this blog is giving me a visible tick in my face. Thank you for posting it though, it inspires and gives me hope for future events.
    All my love!

    PS. John, would you please tell Tigger if you see her again that Yim says hi and ask her to pass my love to all our peeps in Gigsville and any one else she feels like (and you feel like).

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  • Raùl de la Playa says:

    Yes, THANK YOU for the blog. Sometimes I get out my bag of swag from over the years just to breath that unique dust. It transports me.


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  • suzanne says:

    Just returned. Had to leave early this year. What a fantastic account of the American Dream thus far. I am heartsick I had to leave and am watching the webcast when I should be preparing for my gig tomorrow.

    I will be interested to know the total count. I was at KCar and 3:15 and it never filled while I was there. Left this a.m. and not many people on the road to BRC.

    We biked only once then ditched them. Walked the entire time, including all the art on the playing, as well as on the streets. I am nursing huge callouses on the balls of my feet but totally totally worth it. LOVED walking. It allowed me to connect with more people than I ever have before. I will walk again next year even if the playa is gorgeous!

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  • Mike Coyote says:

    someday you will find me
    caught up in a duststorm
    oh the black rock supernova
    black rock supernova
    on the playa….

    Just got back from my first burn
    my week off next year is already on the books
    with my designs for an art car already in the works
    thank you so much im so happy
    to be a citizen and participant of the
    most beautiful city on the planet

    in short…..YOU BLEW MY F&#@KIN MIND!

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