Fun and games? Not really.

Where the paths crossed in the desert

People rolled in to the breakfast meeting on Tuesday morning  looking pretty good, all things considered. Logan was conducting business, and he congratulated everyone for the fine job they did the day before. “You finished nine miles of fence yesterday, and that’s amazing and awesome. … And now you may be asking yourself, what the hell do I do now?”

It was a fair question. There’s a high that comes along with finishing such a gargantuan task as the fence, and doing it with people who are laughing and hollering and happy to see each other again. It’s all fresh and new and adventurous and beautiful and romantic.

And then comes the next day. What do we do now?

Logan’s answer came quickly: “The crew lists are on the pool table outside,” he told the packed crowd at Bruno’s. Everyone could see what work crew they’d been assigned to: Power, Center Cafe, Fluffer, Heavy Machinery, Gate and all the rest of them. Of course there’s a lot of borrowing of people now, as the skill sets of the various crews get sorted out. There’s a chemistry that has to happen, too, or the operations can go south real quick.

And being told to check the crew lists is maybe another way of saying, boys and girls, this ain’t no summer camp you signed up for. Yesterday was hard, but it had a high. Today’s going to be hard, too. But it’s the start of the grind. The hot dusty grind for the next three weeks that are going to help you find out some things about yourself, and maybe some of them you won’t like so much.

Because believe me, for every shenanigan, for every caper, there’s a whole lot of hours doing things that aren’t much fun at all. And at the end of the day you don’t go back home and chill in front of the TV. You go back to your camp or hit the trailer and maybe try to squeeze in a shower if you time it right and there aren’t 10 people ahead of you.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re fortunate to be here. It’s one of the most  profound ways of giving back to this Burner  community. But I’m telling you, it ain’t easy.

There’s a thermometer on the wall in the Depot. It’s in a window, true, but it’s in the shade. At around 5 pm yesterday, it read 110 degrees. Try unloading a truck in that.

Everyone who comes here has to sign a waiver. If something bad happens, well, this thing says that you knew beforehand that things could go wrong. That started back in 1998, and there was a gallows humor about  it. The folks back then called it the Death Waiver. They made up a rock band called D.A. and the Death Waivers. But it’s not really funny, and everyone knows  it.

People come and go from the DPW. Some people have been here it seems like since the beginning, and some people are here for the first time. And some of the people you wish had come back aren’t here. Sometimes the people decide on their own not to return, and sometimes the decision gets made for them.  That’s the way it goes. Just like real life.

So yeah, there are some amazing things that take place out here: like when the evening sky lights the hills in a thousand shades of pink and purple. Or when you hit a rough patch and there’s someone there to pick you up in a way you didn’t expect, or in a way you didn’t even know you needed.

But there’s only one way to earn those highs: you have to go through the lows. And there are plenty of them ahead. So don’t let your mind get too filled with ideas of finding love and glory in the desert. Because it’s true here maybe more than anywhere else: no matter where you go, there you are.

Ok, enough from your cranky uncle. You really just want the pictures, so let’s get to them.

We have a theme today: things out of place.

This whole city-in-the-desert thing is completely incongruous. It doesn’t make any sense. And it makes even less sense in these early days, when the playa isn’t really an open space anymore. We’re only a couple of days in, but there is a LOT of stuff out here already. There have been heavily loaded semis roaring out from the Work Ranch, where the stuff is stored, onto the Black Rock Desert. It takes a lot of gear to get ready for 50,000 people, and a lot of it is here already.

So here’s a look at some of the things that have been plopped here, where they don’t seem to belong.


And one more photo, and it’s of a personal nature, so indulge me for a moment. … I was given a new Playa name this morning: Headshot. … I’m not sure who shouted it out at the morning meeting, but the inspiration for it was my unfortunate run-in with a stake pounder on fence day:

It looked bad, but it wasn’t.



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.

20 Comments on “Fun and games? Not really.

  • Andie Grace says:

    Holy OW!~ And I love the “out of place” series. Thanks for the reminder that it ain’t all fun and games.

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  • ShamansJourney says:

    Thank you for your daily journals John. Love the Blood letting shot! You gave for your rite of passage. Bet that set the tone for the rest of the journey ahead! Best wishes for your adventures forawrd

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  • “A look at things ….where there don’t seem to belong.” Brilliant.

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  • glenda says:

    OOWW! dramatic portrait…..the photos are beautiful….love the pic with the mountains, highway and the tiny truck. Thank you for your journal and photos!

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  • sharwest says:

    You are seriously hitting your stride here! Keep up the great work.

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  • Chris Bonney says:

    Ouch! I think you’re going to need more than those two porta potties.

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  • g says:

    Things out of place.
    What an evocative phrase.
    Anyone else notice how pervasive the challenge of “where the F*** did I leave X ????? ” is on the playa? It took about 6 burns before I finally bit the bullet and forced my mind to organize, organize, ORGANIZE!!
    One thing not out of place there. Me. I am out of place the other 51 weeks of the year.
    Thanks so much for the pics Headshot!
    They are giving me a head start on this year’s playa experience.
    Please keep them coming.

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  • Amanda says:

    The photos are stunning, thank you!

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  • Jackie says:

    Ack, head wounds bleed like crazy, no? Thank you for this blog post. As I dash around thinking about costumes and lighting my bike and the evap pond design, it was so helpful to read this and stop and remember the deeper nature of what happens out there, when I come face to face with parts of myself I don’t seem to confront anywhere else. As always, amazing photos and words that transport me right to the playa.

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  • Will Chase says:

    Earnin’ your pay, I see? Keep that noggin intact … we need it, Curley. Great work, as always!

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  • Bridget says:

    I just wanted to say thank you, to you and the whole crew. Thanks to all of you for your commitment to taking on those lows (and head injuries – ouch!) so that we can all experience that beautiful, communal roller-coaster of highs and lows in three weeks. And thanks to *you*, specifically, for documenting and sharing this experience with those of us who can’t be there with you all right now. I hope I have the opportunity to give you a big hug in person on the playa this year! =c)

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  • John in DC says:

    Love the reporting! To all who are there to experience the highs and lows, thanks so much for doing this for all of us! We have several brothers and sisters out there with you. One who may have patched up that head of yours, and another you captured perfectly in photo for your last entry. Keep them safe and happy, and we will continue to follow all of your adventures until we return home with you.

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  • Brenda Brower says:

    Yeeeeow!!! Thanks for all your doing!

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  • Moze says:

    Ouch!!! Curley, try to keep your head out of oncoming objects, m’kay?

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  • Joe says:

    Do you get a DPW “Headshot” lammie? I hope so!

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  • lala says:

    yay! i’ve been looking forward to your posts all year…see you in a week!

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  • John Curley says:

    Hey thanks all for the support and the love! All is well with me, but your concern and good wishes are very much appreciated. Thanks again.

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  • $tormy says:

    Is it that time of the month John? ;>) Thank you for the pictures! I already feel like I’m on the path home.

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  • Gummie Bear says:

    Many thanks and deep gratitude for all of your hard work. You all are truly the foundation that our great city is built on… stop by P3 Oasis for some firewater and a roll of the dice. See y’all soon!

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  • suzorsooze says:

    great series of photos! but yikes.. now i see what the gash you were talking about on IG. ouchie! glad to hear it is better.:)

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