Ready, set …

The Man had a healthy glow in the early morning hours
The Man had a healthy glow in the early morning hours

Stuff is happening everywhere. The city gets thicker by the hour, art pops up where there wasn’t any before, the rocket ship seems ready for blastoff,  the last spire was placed on the playa, and somewhere, right now, no matter what time of the day or night you are reading this, someone is pounding a stake into the dust and trying to get their camp squared away.

At night now, the “WHOOSH”es are getting louder, as more and more propane-equipped playa vehicles shoot huge bursts of flames into the night sky. It shakes your timbers and rattles your bones, and it’s only just beginning.

The folks who have been here for awhile still have tons to do, because the big party starts in three days. (People will come streaming through the gates just past midnight on Sunday and, ready or not, we all will be launched.)  But the ones who have just arrived are doing the basics — the tent unfurling, the stake pounding, the carpet laying, the light hanging and all the hundreds of other things that need doing before it all gets done.

The last spire was planted in the playa on Thursday
The last spire was planted in the playa on Thursday

And if you’re not here yet, and that certainly means most of you, oh my god it’s all ahead of you. Maybe you’ve rented the RV and maybe you’ve bought the 20 gallons of water and maybe you’ve got the daytime and evening costumes all squared away. But then again, maybe not.

So there are a couple of strategies that it might be good to hear right now. First, and this is a new one for me, more than a few veteran Burners break up the trip into two days. Especially if you are driving from Southern California, but even from the Bay Area, it’s really not such a terrible idea to spend a night in Reno on the way in. Think of it as the last supper. (And maybe the last shower.)

You can do pretty well for yourself in the biggest little city on Earth. (And what does that mean, anyway, the biggest little city on Earth?  … No matter.)  The thing is, it’s a casino town, and even the lavish hotel rooms are so cheap and sweet it almost rots your teeth. Think of a suite the size of your apartment, with a walk-in shower, maybe a hot tub in the main room and a view of the hills from the 35th floor or so, all for about $75. True, the last thing you want to think about now is spending more money, but if you really want to get yourself ready for this dusty ordeal, or if you want to recover in style, think about booking a room before or after the event.

(Ok, an admission: I went off the reservation a couple of nights ago. I went to Reno, and I did the things I described above. I didn’t have to use a Porta Potty, and there was running water. I slept in a very comfortable bed, and there was no dust in the sheets. I know, I know, you don’t feel sorry for me even one single bit, and you shouldn’t, but  I am telling you: Think about it for before or after your trip. It could be a life-changing event. It pretty much was for me, after three weeks spent mostly in the desert.)

The view from behind the handlebars on my little playa scooter
The view from behind the handlebars on my little playa scooter

Reno is also your last chance to get what you need in the way of supplies. There is a huge new Target store on the far side of town on Route 80, in the middle of some gargantuan “marina” development. How could there possibly be a marina in Reno, you wonder? Well, if you build an artificial lake, you get to have a marina, and a huge shopping complex called “Legends”  where the Target is. But be warned; there is no real grocery store there, so you’ll have to stock up on beer someplace else.

For costumes, if you haven’t hit the thrift stores sufficiently already, there is an awfully good one off of Kietzke Avenue in Reno, called Savers. It has a collection of funky items that haven’t been picked over quite so aggressively as the ones in the Bay Area by now, so if you’re looking to score those perfect playa boots, or even (heaven forbid) you’re still in the market for some glow sticks, Savers is very Burner friendly.

All of Reno seems Burner friendly, in fact. The airport has Burner greeters to help you get where you want to go, and it seems like every place you go in town, someone wants to strike up a conversation about Burning Man. Sure, we put a lot of money into the local economy, but it seems more genuine than that. People are friendly. They tell you stuff (whether you ask about it or not, actually) and they seem to want to hear about you.

The Raygun Gothic Rocket ship is poised for takeoff.
The Raygun Gothic Rocket ship is poised for takeoff.

Like the clerk who told me that she and her husband bought a three bedroom home on 13 acres for an absurdly low price. I mean, absurdly low. The mortgage is cheaper than the rent on a studio apartment in San Francisco. And there is parking available.

Of course, and I’ll turn snarky just for a second here, if you buy a house in Reno you’d actually have to live in it, and that means blazing heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, and much of the landscape is somewhat reminiscent of an open-pit mine. No trees, no green … just brown hills and rocks and concrete.

Enough on Reno for now. But stop on your way in or out, and make yourself happy.

Other advice, and you’ve heard this before so we’ll just race through it, but it bears repeating: Bring less stuff. You’re going to eat less and drink more when you get here. You won’t need all that food. You won’t need all those flashlights. You won’t need all those blinkies. You WILL need the earplugs. You WILL need the vinegar to soak your hands and feet to counteract the alkaline playa dust. You WILL need the moisturizer and sunscreen. You WILL need the shade structure and chairs to sit in, because you are going to get tired of walking around, and it will be nice to have a place to crash you can call your own. You WILL need the things that are easy to snack on, because you are not going to feel like cooking. And if you WANT to bring extra chocolate chip cookies, well … I say OK. I can help with those.

The spires leading toward Center Camp glow in the afternoon light

Center Camp is looking prettier by the day. There are flags and lights and carpets and sound systems, and Blondie and Sophie teamed up on some cool new drapes for around the center area. You can almost picture the place mobbed now, with all manners of Burners, the gawkers and the geeks as well as the veteran chic-sters, the hoopers and the yoga people, the body painters and the massagers, and the constant stream of talkers and singers and on the sound stage. It all feels very close. The only thing missing is  the thousands of bikes crowded around the outside.


There’s pretty much a theme for each day out here now. It’s posted in the Decor headquarters around Center Camp. Yesterday was “Best Pickup Line” day. I didn’t know that when someone asked me if I were a parking ticket. Huh? … “You’ve got fiiiiine written all over you!” Haha! … Today was hot pants day. I did not participate. Others did, and I was happy for them. But my radical self-expression, which is so much a part of the Burning culture, does not extend to hot pants. … It was enough to be wearing the short skirt the previous evening at Ladies Night. I will not subject you to  the pictures.

Think about whether you want to even bring your phone up here. Yes, they are working, at least sporadically, on the playa. Yes, there are legitimate uses for them. (“Uh, Joe, can you pick up a car battery for me in Reno? My car is dead …”) … But mostly, think about whether you want to walk around with a cellphone in your ear, or whether you want to be bumped into by someone sending a Tweet. … There is more than a little talk of staging some cellphone interventions when the event begins.

The Burning experience starts very early for some lucky people, like Juniper
The Burning experience starts very early for some lucky people, like Juniper

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 “Ready, set …

  • Mike Hedge says:

    wow!!! these rock!!!. Juni is getting so big =)


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  • youssef says:

    this is pretty cool stuff!
    I can’t wait to be there:)

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  • Burner says:

    Is there a link to some Hi Res / larger versions of these pics?
    Great job John, Thank you for your work.

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  • Bunny says:

    WOW… woke up this morning with that urge in my stomach to run out and sell what I can to get my ticket and haul my ass up there and help out… but responsibility rang next in my head… drats, never answer the phone in your head that early.

    Having playa dreams and your writing make me feel at home, so thank you for the lovely effort and time you put into words of eloquence and waxing about our lovely city as she grows.

    I miss my friends, hugely miss the art!, miss participating, and meeting new burners… thanks for keeping me feeling connected… and yes just a bit of tears in my eyes

    Thank you for dusting the sadness in my heart I feel better now.

    Much Burning Man Love

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  • BeCuz says:

    Since I am not able to attend this year, but, I have sent on my gifts and artwork, I do so appreciate all your efforts to bring to us a bit of the playa. My heart and spirit are both there….. thanks again

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  • Helen says:

    Hey thanks for posting all of these! For someone not going this year :-( it’s REALLY nice to feel and see what’s happening out there.

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  • Nor Cal Amy says:

    i think time slowed down over the last couple days – but these pix have been great!

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  • buck down says:

    he makes a compelling point about spending the night in reno on yer way IN.

    it’s even better than the reno stop on the way out – especially if you live more than 8 hours from the playa

    what this basically ensures is that rather than hitting the dirt fried, saucer eyed, and probably bitching with everyone you just spent the last 14 hours on a death march with- you pull up bright eyed & bushy tailed, with tons of daylight to start working in and getting off on generally a much better foot.

    plus the drive the drive through the last stretch of desert before gerlach is so much better on a good night’s sleep.

    it changes your experience. seriously.

    see you all out there. travel safe

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  • Clarity says:

    There truly is no place like home. Thank you so much for beaming these pics out for those of us caught in the default world this week. There in spirit, as always…love, Clarity

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  • Clarity says:

    OMG! Bunny, I had the same urge…I woke up scheming on a way to be a weekender…still scheming btw, I swear if $500 falls into my lap this week I’m there. Hear that Universe? I said, IF $500 FALLS INTO MY LAP I”M GOING TO THE PLAYA!!!

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  • wilbo says:

    ….and for those of you heading back to Portland, Seattle, B.C., etc. there is Summer Lake Hot Springs, Paisley Oregon 5 hrs. north to chill on the afterburn…

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