Welcome, stranger

The Gate crew had a little shindig before opening the doors to the city.

And just like that, it has begun.

If you came out early to Black Rock City this year, you got a little surprise: They let you in.

The gates swung open Sunday evening at 6 p.m., apparently to avoid creating an  hours-long lineup of cars on the dusty entrance road and in the holding lots. Previously, the gates haven’t opened until midnight. And to be official about it, the event itself didn’t actually begin 12:01 a.m., just as advertised.

But things got to an early start when the cars full of happy faces made their way past the gates and traveled up to the greeters’ stations, where bells were rung to welcome newcomers and people danced and laughed and generally felt pretty damn good about being home again.

Happy to be here? You bet.

Everything felt early this year. The city went up fast, maybe faster than ever. Hell, the Temple is going to open on time this year, and when’s the last time that happened?

Theme camps were let on the playa a bit sooner this year too, the better to set up their situations. And why not? So much work goes into getting it all out here, why not let the camps have a chance of being ready for everyone when the show gets started?

Nah, that's not a real gun. But Bravo hauled it up to the top of the Gate tower as the cars were lining up for entry into the city.

It’s still going to be fun to watch the progress as the week progresses. The big domes are going up at the sound clubs,  the giant tents are being staked into the ground along the Esplanade, and just as at every DMV everywhere, there were a lot of people waiting for paperwork. You have to have a permit to drive a mutant vehicle on the playa, and that means waiting in line for one. Just like home.

As you watched the newcomers breaking out their gear, you had to feel good that you didn’t have hours and hours of setup to do. But it was also a little poignant not to be getting the same rush of joy at feeling the desert on your skin again, and being stunned anew by the hugeness of the sky.

There was lots happening behind the scenes. Between “poofs” from flamethrowers and the thumping of sound systems, the radio was crackling with last-minute details that needed tending to. Art Placement teams were out, making sure that the artists installing their pieces had what they needed and knew the drill. But they all had to break their camps and make the playa a clean landscape for their work.

Logan, the DPW boss, had given his salutary address at the last meeting before the event. In front of the hard-ass group of driven workers, he said, “This is my favorite thing in the world. You’re my favorite people, this is my favorite place, and someday they’re going to look back on this and say, “I can’t believe it kept happening.’ ‘’ There were cheers and applause, and the crews might have stuck out their chests a little further. Twenty years of doing Burning Man in the desert, and it all got done again.

There was dancing between the cones as the cars lined up.

Sunday evening down the Gates, Wild Child gathered his crew together to thank them for the work they’d done so far, and to pep them up for the work still to come. There’d be tens of thousands of tickets to check and cars to inspect, and the work would be done around the clock.

The cauldrons at the Temple were lit at 9, and final preparations were going on out at the Man as the clocked ticked toward midnight. The Man and base looked positively gorgeous, but the light towers still had to move.

And even though the doors to the party did open early, there was no way the DPW wasn’t going to party at the gates at midnight. The DPW folks brought their bullhorns and said hello to the arriving guests in their own very special way. And of course they were more than happy to help the Gate crew drink all that beer.

It was a cold night, but the lights were blazing and the music was blaring at the Cafe. There was a man down at the Carbeque in Gigsville (not too serious, but a little scary), and in the middle of all the madness, there was a wedding at the Pagoda.

So, welcome to the show. It’ll be moving in a million directions at once. This is the week you’ve been waiting for, and it starts now. There have been hundreds of people getting it ready for you, but there’s no party till you get here. As Sean said the other day, it’s you who bring the awesome.

From the wedding of Beanie and Joe (photo by Tod Seelie)
Gerbil and Wild Child kept a vigilant eye a few minutes before the gates opened.
If you look reeeallll hard, you'll be able to see Wild Child popping a bottle of champagne as the Gate crew gets ready to man their stations for opening night.
The lineup of cars wasn't very deep as the sun went down Sunday night.
It's a long way from the Gates to the Commissary, so there are eats on site for the crew.
Skulls are a big part of the motif for the Gate crew paraphernalia.
If you're part of a crew, you have to have a patch. The crews are like clans, with lots of rituals and tons of gear.
Smooth sailing to 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.

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