It begins again

Welcome (back) home.

You may have heard that tickets have sold out for this year’s event, yes? We’re not going to have that discussion today, but we bring it up only as a way of noting that the city has grown again, and not just in population, but in physical size, too.

Last year, you may recall, the band of hard-ass workers known as the Black Rock City Department of Public Works put up seven miles of fence in a single day, enclosing the perimeter of the city-to-be.

This year, the same crew put up NINE miles of fence. Nine. In a single day. Just think about that for a second. As Coyote said,  “The locals must be saying, ‘Look at those hippies go!'”

And go they did, from well before dawn, through the beautiful morning, through the dust storm that hit around 9am  and simply wouldn’t stop, through the hellish midday, and through the doldrums and tedium and exhaustion that hits in the afternoon.

The “official” numbers were available this morning: The crew pounded  1,600 stakes into the well-baked playa. They used 150,000feet of orange nylon rope to tie the pieces of the trash fence together and then tie it to the stakes. And of course each post was pounded by hand,  and each piece of string was cut and each knot was tied  with fingers that needed to be wrapped in protective tape to fend off blisters.

But still the blisters came, and the sunburn, and the muscle aches, and the heat headaches. But the fence got done, as it always does, because it has to.

Niko addresses the crew as the work is about to begin

It wasn’t always this way. Stinky Pirate was telling us about the Way Things Used to Be, back in the year 2000 or so, when 15 really kickass workers needed three days to get ‘er done. And there weren’t any fluffers or PortaPotties around, either. Just a crew in various stages of dementia determined to build the city and put on the party, and that’s the part that hasn’t changed a bit.

Each year is the same, and each year is different.

This year began when it was still dark out.  Trucks and buses and vans had their headlights on as they rolled out across the desert, and workers had breakfast on the playa at 4:45 a.m. Then the stake truck and two teams of pounders took off, well before the sun appeared from behind the hills. There were whoops and hollers and the energy level was astronomical.

You can’t really capture what it’s like with a camera.

A little more than two hours later, the pounders were done. Nine miles of stakes finished by 8:03. The two crews took a break for a group photo, then joined the people tying the fence to the stakes.

By a little after 3pm, the whole thing was finished. Nine miles of fence done in the same time that it took last year to do two fewer miles. Amazing.

Working by the dawn's early light

Some folks have been out here for weeks already, and we’re all the newcomers to them. They’ve been doing the surveying and putting the flags in the ground that mark the spots where the art and the camps will go. But by Monday afternoon, the Transpo team had hauled out dozens and dozens of containers to the desert. What had been open space just hours before was now a city under construction.

“To me, the city is the largest art project out here,” Coyote said, and how can you argue with him?

For a lot of people, fence day is the beginning of the new year. It’s your birthday and Opening Day and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one.

As Joe the Builder stood watching the big semis hauling lumber and containers to various parts of the playa, and as the fence was going up around the whole thing, he squinted a little and said, “Each year they get a little more dialed in.”

It’s kind of hard to imagine that people will keep getting better at what they do, but it’s likely that they will. The crew did nine miles yesterday. And maybe the good news, given the recent developments, is that they seemed like they could have kept going and done a lot more.

George giving final instructions to the crew

The water trucks weren't in service, and there was plenty of dust kicked up by the semi trucks dropping off stuff all over the desert floor.

 

 

When the stake-pounding was finished, the alpha and bravo crews had a group photo taken.

Toad was damn proud of the fact that his hands were blister-free at the end of the pounding. "But what's that one there?" I asked. "Oh, that one was from yesterday," he said.
Rodney is new to the crew this year, out from New York City
Clody cut string after string after string on the fluffer wagon
Roll out the fence, tie those knots, then repeat and repeat and repeat

 

Poltergeist heads the medical services team on the playa. When one of the workers (cough cough) suffered a head wound, he was Johnny on the Spot. Thanks, Poltergeist and Big Spoon! My wound will heal, but the humiliation will linger.
What it's all about.

A good kind of tired.

 

When the pounding and tying was finished, George Bush took a dousing.

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, and I'm especially fond of shooting weddings. I'm also the editor at large of the Tasting Panel magazine, which is devoted to the beverage industry. I've also taught a bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on a (house)boat in Alameda, California.

92 Comments on “It begins again

  • marcy says:

    jc – you are an awesome photog! its killing me i’m not going this year when i see your work.

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  • beautiful shots as always Curley. year after year it warms my heart to see bad ass women putting in the hard work and not just a bunch of dudes. a heartfelt thank you and much gratitude to DPW, you guys are an inspiration.

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  • ronjon says:

    Awesome.

    That is all.

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  • John Curley says:

    Thanks, Marcy, and thanks, Homies. It’s much appreciated.

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  • mariposa says:

    How does one join this crew…..having been burning for nearly 15 years, this looks like a perfect way for me to grow and help……..

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  • What a wonderful peek into the frontier. Thank you, all. <3

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  • 24/7 says:

    It always amazes me that some people think this is just a ‘party in the desert’

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  • DustyHugs says:

    This brought tears to my eyes, thank you guys <3

    Wish i were there with buckets of cold beers and my massage table.

    Thank you, thank you.

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  • christine says:

    wow. just, really, wow. you are all amazing and appreciated! can’t wait to get home! xoxo

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  • Lady Luck says:

    Curly, once again you’ve out done yourself! Who could think such a lovely set of images could be created from such a back wrenching, hand tearing, dirty job. Great capture of a time and place in words and images.

    You rock as does the whole DPW crew!

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  • Jocelyne says:

    Thank you, thank you, to all the volunteers for your hard work for our amazing community! It’s so fun to take a peak into the process, great pics. I CAN NOT WAIT to be back home! <3

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  • Paperboy says:

    As always, thanks so much from those of us who continue the job and get the city going!

    There’s always a cold one for DPW at DOTA!

    In dust we trust~!~

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  • Papa says:

    Nine miles in one day! There is nothing worse than pounding t-posts…You guys rock! Without the DPW none of us would be going. Much appreciation and love!

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  • X says:

    How would one join this team for next year?
    X

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  • Burke says:

    Thank you doesn’t even begin to convey my gratitude to all of you.

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  • wow! wow and fuckin wow! y’all rawk! thx u for your loving and dedicated service! )'( ).( )'(

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  • THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • I want to do this. I want to be a part of this family. :)

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  • Skibit says:

    Thank you!

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  • candykisses says:

    Go Girls and Guys…. wonderful job and thanks to all.
    Too far to come from Israel this year but will be looking out in everyway I can. fb – BMIR and then hopefully pics from all that were there xoxoxo enjoy and I have to start saving now xoxoxoxo

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  • Bounce says:

    You guys are amazing and truly an aspiration! Thank you so much!!!

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  • Indigo says:

    Brings tears to my eyes. Thank you, DPW crew! We love you!

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  • Deanna says:

    A big Thankyou to all who volunteered! 9 miles of fence in one day? Wow! Impressive! The pics and commentary are amazing:) this will be my first time to BM and I’m so excited! Thankyou again for all your hard work!

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  • 9 says:

    All your hard work is truly appreciated by this girl, thank you so much! You are all amazing! xoxo

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  • little wing says:

    Thank you for all your hard work! Great images too! DPW RAWKS AZZ!

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  • Geo says:

    Badasses! Well done all…see you lollygaggers soon ;)

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  • Tiger says:

    Thank you thank you thank you. You guys are amazing, and so appreciated.

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  • John Glueck says:

    Damn I love Fence Day… You ROCK. All of you! Outstanding…

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  • Ranger Siggo says:

    Can’t say enough about DPW. You guys build it from nothing every year and it seems to get better and better. Humbled and proud to volunteer as Ranger and Gayte to protect the amazing feat that you accomplish.

    I’ll have a bottle of my finest whiskey delivered to your camp upon arrival. Kickass DPW!

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  • Marcia "Huckleberry" Alexander says:

    Thank you to everyone on the crew! You do such hard work so the rest of us can play. My baby girl is out there: Athibat- You Rock!

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  • Tangerine says:

    Thank you to all of you that makes this event happen every year~everyone as a whole~I know there is one place on this giant earth that I feel like I truly belong some where!~ROCK ON BLACK ROCK CITY 2011~

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  • Holly Faery says:

    THANK YOU! :)

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  • sangrepicante says:

    you guys are the shit! thank you thank you!

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  • THANK YOU all you hardworkin’ burner mofo sistas and brothas. You’re the best, I’m am so stoked for this year, after 7 long years away from home, and you guys are part of the initial crew making this year possible! Love & Solidarity!

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  • Suga St. Velvet says:

    Wow! As a virgin Burner I wanna say: Thank you to all and everyone who goes out of their way to make things ready to finally come home. I am ecstatic :)
    Sweet velvety kisses to all <3

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  • tommy says:

    FUCK A FENCE….WHAT’S THAT FOR TO KEEP OUT THE UNWANTED PEOPLE? YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN THE GOV. WHAT’S NEXT MINUTEMAN PATROLS? SHOOT ON SIGHT? FUCK YOU SELLOUTS.

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  • Lazlo says:

    First, THANK YOU. Second, I love the irony that you KICK ASS BURNERS spent the day putting up boundaries to demarcate a place where the rest of us are encouraged to be, and are, free to let ours down. Well done everyone.

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  • Quality Control says:

    You are awesome, Curly! And to the Fence crew- you know you rock hard, but it can’t hurt to say it again- you ROCK! Thank you!

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  • g says:

    Please keep those progress pics coming! It is very cool to see what is taking shape put there.

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  • Bexx says:

    been waiting for this post!! Thanks!

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  • Natasha says:

    Wow, look at you, John! I guess getting to BM after all those years was worth the wait because you sure are making up for lost time. ;-) You never cease to amaze me.

    Love and miss you! Come play with me, I’m camping with Opulent Temple :-)

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  • Monster says:

    ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! APPLAUSE APPLAUSE! STANDING OVATION!
    ALPHA & BRAVO, AND ALL THERE SUPPORT TEAM.
    THANK YOU!

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  • bouncing chipmunk says:

    Amazing photography, who is the photograph? And thank you for the hard work everyone!

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  • Melanie says:

    IMPRESSED and TOUCHED girls n’guys – here come my truly heartfelt transatlantic/trancontinental hugs for all of U! THANK U SO MUCH!!!!

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  • Tony says:

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos. I can’t wait to get back out to the playa, this will be my 10th year! I will make sure I make the trek out to the fence this year to, in some small way, recognize all the hard work that DPW does long before the rest of us get to BRC.

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  • Brian C (aka data_b) says:

    As a burn virgin this thrills me to no end. Love the post and the photos. Great work you guys. Thank you.

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  • chris says:

    feels a little more real now. Eeek!

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  • Joe says:

    No, Tommy. It’s mainly for catching blowing garbage, which unfortunately does exist. Good luck with the whole anger/negativity thing, tho.

    Many thanks to the BRCDPW.

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  • Sullyman says:

    9 MILES? 9 MILES? The post pounders finished in 2 HOURS? Thats just amazing. Most people walk at an average of 4 miles per hour so they walked the length AND pounded in the posts in less time than most people could walk it. I realize they had a crew so you moved on to the next open spot but still that is absolutely CHARGING!

    THANKS ALL! We’ll see you in a couple weeks!

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  • kara aka Omey says:

    Curley,

    what is this my third or fourth BM from my computer via your blog, love every second of it this way. Hugs KB

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  • tommy says:

    Hey Joe…catching and blowing garbage? hunh?…this a no trace festival,no garbage bins to get blown by the wind! and an extra 3 miles of it…this is no doubt to catch people from blowing in. it is a barrier and barriers are to protect lines,lines that which were already drawn.and trust me that fence will be protected like a militant border. negative/angry,no not really cause I will not come this year because this alternate city has more rules than the one I live in…fences are built either to keep them in or keep them out…get a clue…garbage blowing lol!

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  • Zac says:

    I cant wait to give you guys some dusty playa hugs and a case or two of cold beer.
    thanks for all the hard work. (((<3)))

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  • scorr schaible says:

    WOW!!! That is an incredible feat, I thank you all for your hard work…See you soon!!!

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  • Dancing Mandy says:

    YAAAAAAAY!!!

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  • Tangles says:

    You guys & gals are the bee’s knees!! Thank you sooooo very much for all your hard work. BIG hugs.

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  • Big Brother says:

    Thanks for all the hard work!

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  • Brenda Brower says:

    Thanks for the effort, blisters, sweat and in some cases the blood too! You are the best of the best!

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  • nikOpeaches says:

    minutemen? good idea. I like it. Shoot on sight? Like it even more. Love the blog Curley. funny to see it on a screen. hmph… bruno’s stops serving in a minute…gotta go. my art is yer city.

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  • Bean says:

    Aw yay! I love and miss you guys! xxoo
    <3, Bean n Hunter

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  • Drian-A says:

    tommy-

    Have you even been to the event? Okay, I’ll even say it’s possible that you went years ago in the days of the drive by shooting range, but have you been recently & have you stayed until at least Tues afterwards? Yes, it’s a leave no trace event, but that’s because DPW is there to clean up after those who have left MORE than a trace. I’ve seen 5 person tents abandoned out there STUFFED with trash. I’ve seen garbage & trailers abandoned on the road (off playa) back to default world.

    Do a little research on who owns the land and what hoops have to be jumped through in order to make this possible. I mean, really, take it ALL in. Then, you can make comments with merit, but if you really understood it all, you’d have very little comments besides kudos. As well, with BRC being 50,000 plus, I doubt the city you live in could host such a thing as goes on for a week during the Burning Man event, annually, comprised of participants & not tourists (like a city hosting a worlds fair or the Olympics…..the city is there while mostly tourists from out of town attend the special event).

    You aren’t coming out. I believe it’s for the best of all parties.

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  • Drian-A says:

    Oh….& there are mostly but two rules. Have a ticket to enter & have consent before doing something to someone else. Otherwise, normal local, state & federal laws apply just like anywhere in the host country.

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  • tommy says:

    …I use to work with my Dad in the days of first conception of this thing on the beaches of Northern California…all which were War Vets,shell shocked from Vietnam looking to blow off steam. And then came the the hippies to the party,local police were all ex vets from WW2 and Korea understood what these guys suffered and let them have their fun ,but once the assholes arrived homeowners started to complain and word got out about a massive event…(wrong)…it was not called burningman that’s a name someone came up with to make money off of some poor soul that gave his sanity and future for all of you…and you would not even let them have that. This was stolen by greed heads,nothing more!

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  • tommy says:

    …and yes I respected it more as a shooting range than a group of hip-sters,yuppies,so-called artist,and just a bunch of people looking to take drugs and spread their agenda about lifestyles.

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  • sharwest says:

    thanks to all DPW folks for your epic hard work. john i wish i could be there with you this year…but as kara says, this is a great way to see it and i accept no substitute! xo

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  • Assasaurus (Cher) says:

    Thank you for creating our borders… You are loved!

    Assasaur~

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  • Vinyl says:

    Getting more excited, day by day as i see these images. Working late hours too to get our airstream together and this is pure motivation. Thanks you all!

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  • david wiles says:

    thanks for making it so I would not blow away if the wind was too strong.

    I feel much better now that I know that orange net will stop me…

    wow great work

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  • dragnet says:

    I cant thank the crew enough! once again ( 5 phence projects) i will decorate the far phence, this year with license plates…. george and the crew, 9 miles of fence, all in a day?? playa magic! i like to honor their labors and make the phence an art destinatioin…last year i did CityFish and gifted ALL of them to george to bring back again and again, maybe to the far outposts! no matter where u r from in the us there is a pl8 awa8ing u out there!!!! thanks again, we appreciate you recognizing the efforts of those who concatenate the cacophony !

    dragnet BliNkinGmAn CaMp ’97 – ’11

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  • Issmo says:

    Thanks, DPW people!!

    And Hey, Tommy: Shit happens. Shit changes. Shit can be serious. Some don’t give a shit. Ultimately: shit is a rite of passage. You have already participated by giving a shit. YAY!!!!!! Carry on you burner in exile.

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  • Trystian says:

    Awesome job folks. A heartfelt thanks goes out to the DPW crew. A lot of hard work in the heat, wind, and dust. I wish I could have made it out there.

    Love & Peace to all the burners out there,
    -Trystian

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  • T-Dawg says:

    Tommy,

    I’m a Gulf war Vet and a burner. My dad is a Korean war Vet, ex-police officer, and a burner. We have no problems with how things are managed at Black Rock. There is no agenda on the playa, just a bunch of like-minded people getting together to celebrate life.

    It sounds like you are harboring a lot of hostility. You may want to seek professional help, or try aromatherapy. There are some herbs out there that are very relaxing.

    PS: I hope you picked up your brass while you were out there. Litterbugs are worse than terrorists in my book. ;-P

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  • Captain Carburetor and Kismet says:

    Awesome job, Thank you, Thank you !
    This is the kind of working community that makes BRC so electrifying !
    “No spectators, only participants” !

    The photos are stunning !

    I will look at that fence line, seeing the energy and hard work that went into it next time, instead of just a fence.

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  • Karin says:

    As I swipe the grateful tears from the corner of my eyes, I feel so blessed and honored to be joining everyone on the playa for the first time this year! These picture speak volumes! THANK YOU!!!!!

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  • ~lancho! says:

    You people are just too beautiful for words!

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  • Cynthia says:

    OMG it just hit me…I’m coming HOME! Too big for words so thank you Thank You THANK YOU all you beautiful people, and for the wonderful writing and photos!! See you SOON! xo

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  • Freebird says:

    Thanks for all your hard work and
    dedication to the safety of the playa.

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  • The_Magician says:

    Thanks to all y’all for your hard work! Hugs and high-fives.

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  • GummieBear says:

    You all are the best, thank you!

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  • Justine says:

    THANK YOU!!!! Can’t wait to come home! My heart swells when looking at these pictures! See you all soon!!!!

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  • sarah says:

    how can a orange fence evoke such emotion??? with joy and tears: thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.

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  • Mose says:

    these photos are great!

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  • Annie says:

    They look like Marines building our city from ashes to dust to iron and plastic, the few dozen of 50,000 are our city’s Romans.

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  • Shawna says:

    Incredible! I must express my gratitude to all of u in the DPW crew. It is so wonderful to see all the hard work that so many people put in to make the Burning Man experience possible. It’s not all fun and games and that makes it so much more special, so REAL. Its not just a mirage out there!!!! I am a birgin and from the bottom of my heart I thank u for making my dream a reality. Some year I hope to be out there making it happen with ya’all. As for this year, ill see u all inside the fence.
    Sincerely,
    Shawna

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  • Ronnie says:

    How to I become part of this Crew next year and any other Crew building the Man and the Temple? This will be my fisrt year at BM.

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  • Bravo you all! I love you – thank you for what you do!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Bling says:

    We LOVE you DPW…..your hard work does not go unnoticed!! When you see a DPW, you THANK THEM!!!!

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  • cupcakecrush says:

    This just made me SO happy. Thank you.

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  • tommy says:

    T-Dawg ,sounds like we have some things in common , I would love to have a chance to talk off this grid sometime…tommy

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  • Tanya says:

    Thank you all. SO much :) x

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  • vicki says:

    THANK YOU FENCE CREW!!!

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  • Sparrow says:

    Fucking AWESOME! You guys are inspirational. I hope I can be badass enough to help some year.
    Can’t wait to see it all!

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