Just another day at the office

Helen invaded the Oculus crew headquarters
Helen invaded the Oculus crew headquarters

Monday is a funny day to be out in the desert.

You can’t help but think of all the people who are beginning their work weeks, just like normal. … And although it’s true, this is a work week out here, too, with meetings and deadlines and responsibilities and all the rest of it, still, with all of that, we’re not kidding anybody. This is different. These are not the salt mines. This is not the cubicle. This isn’t even the corner office.

This is beautiful red sunlight at dawn. This is huge open skies and hot sun overhead. This is impossibly blue skies with perfect white puffy clouds. This is a whole bunch of people who have a common sense of purpose and are accomplishing something really special.

Boxes and boxes of decor were being unloaded
Boxes and boxes of decor were being unloaded

At the 7:30 meeting, Dave X had some advice for those planning to burn large objects out here at Burning Man. The key piece of advice is to not soak the object in gas. You might think that’s pretty basic advice, but apparently it’s a mistake that keeps happening. Soak it in gas and you  get a big “whoooosh” and then big big flames, and it’s usually not too happy. What you want to do is soak your show in DIESEL, and then use just a little gas to get things going.

There are some people earning high school diplomas out here on the playa. Victoria has gotten the state’s ok to award diplomas from … here it comes … Black Rock High School. It’s apparently all legit. I asked about the curriculum and the requirements and Victoria said, “If you can survive out here, you can survive in the world.” So if you haven’t got your high school diploma, this is a place you can earn one.

There’s a doctor on the premises. Her call name on the radio? Scrip. But it’s not really like it might sound. Everyone was told NOT to ask the doc to refill prescriptions. The medic is for emergency use only.

tues-aug-25The decor crew has arrived to tart up Center Camp, and who doesn’t like that? Boxes and boxes of ribbons and bows and other pretty things were being unfurled all day, the better to decorate the timber and wires and tarps that make up Center Camp now. The Center Camp crew is always happy to see the decor people arrive, of course, because by now, after a couple of weeks of sawing, pounding and digging, pretty people putting out pretty things is a welcome change.

tues-aug-25-4So, it looks like you won’t be able to climb around on the Man base after all. The structure is really beautiful, but it’s a somewhat fragile beauty. Fragile in the sense that it wouldn’t do well with dozens of people climbing around on it, and that’s no doubt what would happen. It’s just too tempting to haul yourself up with all the handholds in the 2x4s. So Betty June is organizing shifts of volunteers to watch over things and keep everybody safe, around the clock.

Speaking of the Man, the crew held a nighttime work party to soak burlap in wax and then attach it to the timber, the better to make a big fire on burn night. It was a fun time, but the more beer and the more Manhattans that were drunk, the more … um … haphazard the work got. So Dan was out there Monday, re-tying the burlap.

And the Man is wearing perfume this year, too. Apparently the folks who bought the 300 pounds of wax got a scented variety, and if you walk around the Man, you’d think he might have gone a little overboard on the cologne.

“We should have got bacon wax,” Dan said. Imagine the Man burning with the smell of bacon in the air.

tues-aug-25-11All of a sudden the Temple is looking almost done.

It seemed like things got off to a very slow start there, but in the past week, the pieces have been coming together unbelieveably well. The team from Austin has been working for months on the piece, after getting a little bit of a late start because it was unclear if  David Best was going to make a return to Temple building this year. He passed, and then Texas swing into action.

Heather was out there the other day, watching the cranes lower giant plastic cylinders into the center of the Temple. There’s going to be fire swirling around in the center of the Temple, and she was charged with, among other things, fabricating the steel beams that hold the center in place.

tues-aug-25-10Heather shares a home in Austin with Dave and Marrilee, the prime movers behind the Temple this year. When they got the award to build from the Black Rock Arts Foundation, it was kind of inevitable that she’d be involved, too.

The walls of the Temple are beautifully crafted wood that were designed by a slew of artists in Texas. “We just invited everyone out to the house and said let’s get this thing done,” Heather said. So the designs were drawn and the cutting and crafting started back in May. Now it’s all coming together at the far end of Black Rock City.




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.

10 Comments on “Just another day at the office

  • Jordan Tenney says:

    Amazing. Great work guys! Thanks for all your hard work.

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  • dimitre says:


    I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying reading your blogs and looking at the pictures. I so wish I could be out there this year. Too much stuff in the outside world holding me back, but I will be checking in on your blog everyday, so as to vicariously live through your eyes and thoughts… the next best thing to actually being there. Maybe next year I can come out and help add a few photos like I did last year.


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  • Mz Glitta says:

    Thanks to everyone!!!!
    For all the hard & fun work.
    I won’t be there this year…Joy & Peace & Fun ;0 Mz Glitta

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  • Kristine in SB says:

    Hi John. Thanks for your updates. I’m so looking forward to getting out there in just a few days. Can you please provide contact info and/or resources for your references to Black Rock High School and diplomas from BRHS. As a home-schooling parent and life-long advocate for young people, I’m always on the look out for “alternative” educational venues. I find no hits on google for for NV or CA when it comes to the Black Rock Desert/City and/or Burning Man and education. Any guidance appreciated. Your blog entry says it’s supposedly “legit”, but I’d like a little more concrete info. Thanks! Kristine

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  • PerryMesium says:

    Incredible! Thanks John!
    Looking forward to next week and checking it all out!!!!–Perry M

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  • mindy look says:

    i need a high school diploma will they be doing it next year?

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  • ENO says:

    Preparations are almost complete, all the hard work, and hours of creative energy are all coming together. What a great project for all to enjoy and embrace! Thanks to all who give of themselves.
    Peace, and may “the man” be with you!!

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  • Stringbean says:

    Ok Curley
    Got to give it to you bro
    your work is darn tootin wonderful
    as juicy as the playa is dry
    you’re making me more homesick than I thought I’d manage to get this year.
    Now I’m missing the birth of BRC more than I thought I’d be missing the burn.

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  • John Curley says:


    A woman named Victoria who works for the Department of Public Works for Black Rock City is the person in charge of the high school diploma program. You can contact the Burning Man DPW through this link: http://www.burningman.com/on_the_playa/infrastructure/dpw.html

    I’m so sorry you’re not going to be here this year. Thanks for the very kind words.

    thanks ALL for the support!

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  • Ocotpus says:

    Sending luv to Bettie June and all the Man base crew! What an amazing base this year, I am so longing to stand underneath it, ah, only in my dreams this year. Damn, wish I was cruzin’ around in a golf cart being a nanny to your little tike. Well, looking forward to pictures and stories and decomp.

    Nighty, nighty Black Rock City. I am missin you.


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