Out at the edge of the city … another city

They’re the outlaw project, or maybe just old school Burning Man. They’re the wild West, with infusions from all over the world, most notably New Zealand and Ireland. They’re the gang at the far end of the playa, building the huge project with the tiny budget. Megatropolis.

Five buildings will light up the far reaches of Black Rock City, each of them huge, and the tallest rising almost five stories above the desert floor.

The crew has a crackerjack core of carpenters and builders, but a bigger bunch of people who are willing to do a lot of hard work and take direction. But the size of the crew is minuscule compared to some of the other projects here. They’re about 20 strong, give or take.

And they’ve done it with very little money, too. Most of the leaders of the project are into it in the thousands of dollars already (but it’s not too late to help, by the way. Go to the Megatropolis web page to contribute).

Otto Von Danger and Kiwi are the lead dogs. They met at the regional burn in New Zealand this year, and the plans took shape. Build another city inside of Black Rock City, in the year of Metropolis.

Some of the buildings are recognizable, like the Transamerica Pyramid. Others are more iconic: the smokestack, the apartment building and the mega mall. In the center sits the tower, the biggest of the buildings and the one where you’ll be able to get a ride to the top on a scissor lift.

The whole city will be lit from the inside as well as the outside. It’ll be glowing in the distance, and the colors will be changing regularly. Oh, and there will be fire and fireworks — lots of both! — when the city is burned on Friday night of the event.

In the dust and the wind of the first couple of days, the generator was balky.

The construction camp is rough around the edges. It doesn’t have the amenities of the other big projects of its kind. There are some chairs and couches, some of which were apparently used in some sort of fire safety demonstration the first time they were on the playa.The overall impression that it’s a rough place to be.

None of it seems to matter. With Otto’s ingenious methods of getting what he needs, and Kiwi’s indefatigable spirit, the buildings have risen. Kamikazi Kelly is in the group, too, pushing the stone up the hill.

It’s really happening out there, against really long odds. And it makes you feel good to see a bunch of old-timey burners get together on a lark and put up a major installation out here.

The camp was small to start with, and never got very much bigger.


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.

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