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

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.

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